A New Media Center for the MidPeninsula
An address by Ken Allen
At the Annual Meeting of Cable Co-op in Palo Alto, California
September 26, 1999

Last Monday one of my regular viewers came up to me and said:
“Ken, I love your shows. Will you be able to keep your Saturday night show after ATT takes over?”

I said: “Yes. Definitely.”

That is why we at Cable Co-op are working so hard to create a new media center. Things will be even better!

As many of you know, I have not only been a Cable Co-op board member for the past four years, I have being doing shows on MPAC as a local producer for the last seven years.   Since I initiated the first and latest dialogues between members of the MPAC Board and the Co-op Board, this evening I want to talk about the future.

Why Two Organizations-MPAC and Cable Co-op

Let me give you a little background.

Currently there are two formal organizations based in our service area that do and/or support local programming: MPAC and Cable Co-op.  They share facilities and do a lot to support one another.  It is largely an historical reason that both exist.  MPAC was formed in 1990 by the City of Palo Alto on behalf of the joint powers of the MidPeninsula “to oversee the development of public access television and advocate for the public interest with regard to telecommunications.” It was formed before Cable Co-op was awarded the franchise. Cable Co-op as franchise awardee was a member owned co-operative corporation with a mission to develop and promote advanced telecommunications and thus to operate the cable television system within the region and to produce local origination content targeted to a local audience.

Cable Co-op has goals similar to that of MPAC.  Where MPAC comes from the public access tradition, Cable Co-op comes from the co-operative tradition, where members join together to provide themselves products and services they want at a reasonable cost and hopefully to return profits, if any, to the members.

For the last half dozen years, Cable Co-op has been addressing the challenges of meeting the demands of its members, consistent with its mission.  The challenges are daunting, as you have heard.  But we have some wonderful things. In general we have responded to requests for local programming and a variety of program offerings and communication services that have filled the system to capacity.  We have also been able to meet our financial obligations to bankers and investors in an increasingly competitive environment, up to a point, as you have heard.

The time is ripe to move on.

So where do we go from here?

What is SVCC?

This is where SVCC comes in. So what is SVCC and what is the benefit of having SVCC?

SVCC is the Silicon Valley Community Communications, Inc., a newly-formed 501(c)(3) Non Profit Corporation organized under the laws of the State of California.  It is neither the Cable Communications Co-operative of Palo Alto nor the MidPeninsula Access Corporation.  It is a clean slate.  It is independent.  It has its own board and it is framing its own future.  Its framers are representatives of Cable Co-op’s member-elected board and MPAC’s franchisor-appointed board.

This is the current working vision statement as crafted by the framers.  It has been unanimously endorsed by the Cable Co-op board of directors and is under active review by the board of MPAC.


A joint committee consisting of representatives from Cable Co-op and the Mid-Peninsula Access Corporation (upon review of pertinent portions of the agreement between Cable Co-op and AT&T/TCI and analysis of the available funding) has endorsed the creation of a new community media center which would eventually replace MPAC and Cable Co-op as they are currently structured.
Silicon Valley Community Communications Inc., a non profit corporation, will serve those who live or work in Atherton, East Palo Alto, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Stanford and other Mid-Peninsula residents. It will be housed in a new facility and will provide a variety of services to address the following goals:

1. Create and maintain a facility available to all members of the community at which people have access to resources that enable and enhance communication and expression.

2. Generate and maintain a public forum which promotes civic engagement, diversity awareness, a venue for arts and a forum for many voices,

3. Produce quality programming of particular local interest, some of which will be produced by center staff and some by individuals and groups assisted by center staff. When members of the public produce programming they will be assured the guarantees of the First Amendment.

4. Enhance access to government and the political process for all members of the community and to enhance dialogue between government and members of the public.

5. Provide accessible and affordable training for community members in media production including but not limited to video, radio and website content.

6. Collaborate with schools, local government, non profits, and local arts organizations to produce and disseminate community communications.

7. Utilize any number of media, as resources allow, to accomplish the above goals.

The board governing the center would include representatives from each Midpeninsula community to ensure that all perspectives are represented and that the center remains a truly community institution. The Board could also include additional elected members.

Impact of the ATT Transaction

The Cable Co-op transaction with ATT has a number of provisions impacting SVCC. First and foremost, SVCC is the legacy of Cable Co-op. Cable Co-op will not control it, although Cable Co-op will itself continue to exist for the foreseeable future in a role yet to be determined.

According to the transaction, SVCC is required to establish and operate a local studio for MPAC and for local programming.  It will make facilities and equipment available to MPAC or its successor free of charge.

SVCC is granted exclusive control over an additional analog channel for local programming over and above whatever the franchisor requires for prior or future Public, Educational and Government or PEG functions. It could be either a commercial channel or a PEG channel.  Currently a PEG-qualified channel is favored.

The Community will Benefit

As a Cable Co-op board, we debated long and hard about what to do with the proceeds of the sale. After weighing all the factors, the vast majority agreed the best use is to authorize a substantial legacy donation to SVCC. Our passionate recommendation is that you, the members of Cable Co-op, ratify this action.

Assuming that the donation to SVCC receives the approval of the members of the Co-op as we recommend, the benefits will be enormous.

First, SVCC will receive the first 17 million dollars of the sale proceeds to invest and to build a new facility.  In that way, it keeps the legacy of Cable Co-op intact and provides a permanent home for local media production.  There could be more funding from the transaction, especially if members choose to donate more in the future as funds are freed up.  We also hope there will be enough funding to attract serious attention and additional funding.

Second, SVCC will carry on an important mission of the co-operative movement, namely it will promote the locally focused objectives and member services that the co-operative company provided.

Third, this transaction is clearly intended to protect MPAC and give MPAC the maximum flexibility it wants or needs to make any changes it may want to make. ATT is obligated to negotiate with MPAC. MPAC remains, for the time being at least, the local PEG provider for the franchisors. If it wishes MPAC can remain an independent organization and benefit from funding through SVCC. However, it is definitely a possibility that SVCC will succeed MPAC.

Thus one of the benefits will be that MPAC will be in a better position to contribute its assets and personnel and its energy to making SVCC more than what it is.

Fourth, since SVCC is a nonprofit organization, all present and future donations and grants to it are tax deductible.  The tax laws favor such organizations because they serve charitable, educational and like worthy purposes that otherwise would go unserved.

Fifth, SVCC intends to establish itself as an educational institution with a potential for accreditation.  It intends to establish additional partnerships with schools or other non-profit agencies and foundations. This new media institute should change the perception of those with access to potentially significant sources of grant money and attract additional funding.

Sixth, SVCC will enable and empower quality production in support of community communication. This includes public access, local origination, Internet content and local programming through low cost access to equipment, studios and talent. It is never cheap to do a good job.  But SVCC will be able to produce broadcast quality productions. However, it is looking to serve a community market more than is presently served.

Assuming MPAC is succeeded by SVCC, SVCC will absorb all the roles now carried out in parallel by both MPAC and CC.  It will be the community base of operations for support of government access, educational access, public access, local programming, and content production of all kinds of electronic media.

It will assist in helping the community understand and use the resources of telecommunication.

It will provide training for local producers and interns.

It will produce local interest programs.

It will facilitate the airing of programs requested by the narrowcast interests in the community.

It will produce content potentially independent of delivery medium.

Its center should become a performing arts center for electronic media.

It should complement the resources already in the community.

Finally, this new entity and center will be the vehicle for deriving the maximum benefits from a media rich environment. It will serve the diverse, multicultural region we live in and project the best of the Mid-Peninsula culture to the community, to rest of the region and even to the world.

Just as at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, no one conceived of the role that transportation, communication and broadcast entertainment would play in the next hundred years, there are certainly things we cannot even conceive of at the beginning of the 21st century.

I hope you will share our passion for this legacy of Cable Co-op.