Port Orchard to stream meetings online, dump BKAT TV broadcast

Barring a last-minute agreement, the city of Port Orchard’s meetings will no longer be viewable on Bremerton Kitsap Access Television (BKAT) and will instead appear on the city’s Web site as streaming video.

The changeover will occur after the first of the year, with the Dec. 22 regular meeting slated as the final BKAT broadcast.

The issue came to the council’s attention at the Dec. 1 study session, as a budget-cutting option.

In an attempt to decrease the $7,800 allocated in 2009, Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola then put forth the idea to convert to Internet coverage, which would be less expensive and serve a greater number of viewers.

According to data supplied to Coppola by Wave Cable, there are more people who use the Internet than cable systems. Additionally, advantages for online broadcast centers around flexibility, most notably the ability to view programs at will rather than at fixed times and to scroll through a broadcast to arrive at a particular topic.

While the changeover is only a few weeks away, the city has not worked out all the logistics.

Coppola said the city’s servers can handle the extra load, but the labor needed for camera operation and Web posting is not yet allocated.

While camera operation isn’t a complicated process and can be learned with practice, there are still technical issues.

“It’s not hard to put video on the Internet,” said BKAT Public Access Manager Charleen Burnette. “But they need to determine what happens when several people want to access the same video simultaneously.”

Port Orchard Information Technology Manager Vince Tucker said he didn’t know how much a conversion to online meeting broadcast would cost and what it would entail.

“I can’t say how we can put meetings online until I get some direction from the council and determine their expectations,” he said. “That hasn’t happened yet.”

Burnette, appearing before the council on two consecutive nights, said the network could not provide required gavel-to-gavel service for the $5,000 offered.

Her counter-offer was to accept the amount as an advance and notifying the city when it was spent. At current usage rate, this would pay for coverage up to October 2010.

“At that point, the council would find a way to come up with the extra money,” she said.

Burnette, while admitting the rates are due to go up in the next few years, said if BKAT were to agree to supplying full coverage for $5,000, as the city offered, it would cause an imbalance, with other jurisdictions supporting Port Orchard.

Of all BKAT clients, the service gets revenue from Kitsap County ($42,000), Poulsbo ($19,000), the Port of Bremerton ($9,000 ) and the city of Bremerton ($250,000, including other services).

Coverage costs are always estimated, since it is not certain when meetings will occur.

It is impossible to predict whether a series of special meetings will be called at the last minute or if another meeting is canceled due to weather.

During Tuesday’s discussion, several council members referred to the inconvenient broadcast times, noting that few people watch the meetings at 1 a.m. Burnette called this an incomplete statement, noting that in addition to the 1 a.m. Tuesday broadcast, the meetings are viewable at 8 p.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Friday.

“Thursday evening is prime time,” she said. “If the council does not want this time slot, there are others who will snap it up.”

Burnette said she planned to contact the city on Wednesday to make sure they wanted to discontinue BKAT, otherwise she would offer the times to the Port of Bremerton.

While it will be easy to fill the time, Burnette said she would have to “scramble” in order to make up for the lost revenue.

Burnette addressed the council at a Monday night public comment budget session, returning on Tuesday to provide additional input.

She was under the impression the matter was yet to be decided, but noticed a tag on the agenda reading “Effective Jan. 1, 2010, meetings will only be available for viewing on the city’s website.”

Burnette wasn’t the only one who thought the change wasn’t a done deal.

Councilwoman Carolyn Powers brought the matter up for discussion, saying she knew of several people who relied on BKAT coverage for council information. Councilman Fred Chang voiced similar concerns, and opposed the ratification of the budget for that reason — although Powers was part of the five-vote majority.*

During the audience comment period, Port Orchard resident Gerry Harmon said the discontinuation of BKAT service cuts off people who have a lower income and limited budget.

“We started looking at this as a way to save the taxpayers some money,” Coppola said in response to Harmon. “We put out a lot of options and just got a lot of flak for our trouble. I think everyone needs to know this.”

* A previous report that Powers voted with Chang was incorrect.

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