In The News
As the world watches, most of Wisconsin can't see itself
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted April 19, 2011
On March 10 the eyes of the world focused on a raucous state assembly meeting in Madison where Democrats tried to shout down the rapid-fire and potentially unlawful Republican votes on Gov. Walker’s bill stripping most bargaining rights from public workers (a piece of legislation now revised, rushed through and hung up in court controversy).
“Eyes of the world,” yes -- but not most of Wisconsin, which didn’t know about or couldn’t get to the blow-by-blow WisconsinEye coverage or dip in when they wanted on their local TV sets.
It they turned to the main option, wiseye.org on the Internet, they were probably swamped out of connection during and after. Thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands like-minded global users were also attempting to get in, buckling servers with over-peak traffic that broke all standing records. As great as net video has become in the last decade, it’s a distant second choice for a nonprofit created as a high quality television service for the Wisconsin public, supported to this point by donations, providing hundreds of hours of public events programming from Madison to Milwaukee and points in between.
Unless the public takes action with TV providers, the service is at the mercy of home computers of varying degrees of Internet speed and sophistication. It is also at the mercy of local and global media providers, since its nonpartisan news feed and balanced coverage are available by mandate at no cost, though usually used in mere snippets and with no WisconsinEye control or credit on local news shows.
That’s part of a festering irony for WiscosinEye’s president, Christopher Long, and program manager Claudia Looze. They may love the Internet, they may use Facebook and Twitter expertly to promote their nonprofit, but none of that makes up for seeing a service created for TV denied a place on so many Wisconsin TV sets.
Long points out that while most of Wisconsin couldn’t see what was happening in its own backyard, WisconsinEye’s wall to wall assembly coverage was on Al Jazeera throughout the Middle East. But except for a founding partner, Madison centered Charter Communications, WisconsinEye is not on your television system.
This maddening situation has now become a massive campaign by WisconsinEye to get the service on such primary providers as Time Warner Cable and AT&T U-Verse. The demand has continued full bore as Wisconsin continues full bore as the center of a political storm, requiring public hearings to air both sides of the issues. In the interim the public missed the testimony that has caused Republicans to back away from Walker’s recycling elimination and other retreats. They missed the embarrassment felt by senators when they were shamed by schoolteachers on live but not widely available TV.
Problem is, most commercial systems are more interested in profit potential than public service, so as hot as Wisconsin is right now it will take customer demand to wake up the big providers.
WisconsinEye is urging customers of U-Verse and Time Warner to write, call and email these providers saying they would be willing to pay 5 cents more a month, 60 cents a year, to add WisconsinEye. This is, of course, a bargain for companies that pay an average 20 cents a month for a station (as high as $4 a month for ESPN or 99 cents for TNT and even undercutting the 6 cents for C-SPAN).
Of course, urging providers to add the channel may actually wind up not costing the customer anything since WisconsinEye would be folded into a subscription offering. Most customers don’t realize they are paying for all the channels they take and don’t look at, and virtually everyone can think of channels they’d be happy to drop (many simply fade away on their own in the process, so it would be easy on all fronts to add WisconsinEye as a public service).
WisconsinEye explains the campaign on its website where it also includes sample letters and automatically passes messages on to the governor and relevant legislators. Also encouraged is direct access to:
Tom Adams, Regional VP Operations, Time Warner Cable, 1320 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. Milwaukee, WI 53212, phone (414) 277-4032, email@example.com.
Scott VanderSanden, president, AT&T Wisconsin, 722 N. Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202, phone (414) 270-5900, firstname.lastname@example.org
These contacts grow in importance because Wisconsin citizens are missing a lot of fireworks.
For example, on April 11, when the state joint finance committee deliberately scheduled State Fair hearings so as to exclude people who work for a living (in a cynical ploy to pretend that the folks disagreeing with slashes to education aid and transit were only those people who didn’t work for a living), hundreds of citizens submitted written testimony, photographs and even balloons. Where could you hear the exchanges that public hearings require and taxpayers support? Only on WisconsinEye.
Workers in Egypt, watching events unfold on Al Jazeera, can hold up placards referencing Wisconsin. Folks in Brookfield, who may need public forums on their TV more than folks in Bahrain, are left out of the loop. Unless customers of all political persuasions write in.