FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
An overflow crowd watched on a monitor yesterday as Dennis Callan, president of the Hawaii Geographic Society, testified against a plan to put public-access television through a competitive bid process.
Public-access cable plan draws static
Opponents of a proposal to put the management of public-access channels statewide out to bid say they do not want community television falling into the wrong hands.
"The relationships that we have built in the community -- it's not something that can be bought and sold through the bid process," 'Olelo Community Television President and Chief Executive Officer Kealii Lopez said at a three-hour public hearing last night in which all 72 of those who gave testimony were against putting public-access television through a competitive bid process.
"Community access is not just about TV production and shows," Lopez said. "It's about empowering people with the ability to make a difference in their community."
The state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs hearing was the fourth held statewide since Feb. 1 and was aimed at getting comments on whether the agency should pursue the bidding process for community television contracts or apply for an exemption.
More than 100 people packed into a small room at the King Kalakaua building on Merchant Street for the meeting -- the first on the issue for Oahu.
Some held signs that read, "Save 'Olelo" or "Save Free Speech!"
In October the state attorney general's office notified DCCA officials that contracts with public-access television nonprofits on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island -- which have been in place for more than a decade -- should be competitively bid. An exemption to the process would have to be approved by the state Procurement Office, officials said.
DCCA Director Mark Recktenwald is expected to make a decision on whether to file an exemption or pursue the procurement process in April. Clyde Sonobe, DCCA cable television division administrator, said 'Olelo's contract with the state expires June 30.
Among those testifying last night were students, kupuna, professors and community activists. A handful of people flew in from Molokai, Maui and the Big Island.
'Olelo started in 1990 and has six channels, which run government hearings, community events, university-level classes and publicly produced programs.
'Olelo's neighbor-island counterparts are Akaku on Maui, Hoike on Kauai and Na Leo on the Big Island.
Hearing attendees said the stations have invaluable ties to their communities. They also worried that the bidding process would inevitably mean cuts in programming and less air time.
The deadline to submit written comments on the issue is tomorrow. They can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, faxed to 586-2625 or sent by mail to the DCCA's Cable Television Division, P.O. Box 541, Honolulu, HI 96809.