St Augustine and St Johns County cable television franchisee Comcast Communications, who delivers television programing produced and operated by St Johns County “GTV”, delivered some bad news to its city and county clients, according to an announcement received by Historic City News today.
Comcast, as part of its franchise agreement, and to provide a public service, offers cable television channel 3 to GTV; for broadcast of certain public service announcements, and as a way for even its basic cable subscribers to observe public meetings held by various local government boards, without requiring them to physically attend those meetings.
St Johns County GTV provides live streaming of government programing over the Internet; so that residents who are away from home, or those who do not subscribe to cable television, have free access to observe county commission meetings, planning and zoning board meetings, to name a few.
Historic City News has been asking City of St Augustine Public Affairs Director Paul Williamson for months why city commission meetings, which are held in the evening and have been known to drag on until midnight, suddenly disappeared from the Internet last summer. Williamson pointed us to St Johns County, as the operators of GTV, and has repeatedly responded “they’re working on it”.
Williamson also told us that he doesn’t have a cable television connection in his office at city hall; and, he too relied on his Internet connection to follow the broadcast of certain meetings which he otherwise could not attend.
On Monday, June 10, 2013, Historic City News contacted St Johns County Communications Manager, Michael Ryan, citing the specific Internet streaming outage for city commission meetings; to which he responded, “St. Johns County streams our video content from GTV directly to a third-party provider on the Internet for viewing via a link on the County’s website.”
Ryan went on to explain that the Comcast feed seen on Cable Channel 3 is transmitted directly from cameras in the meeting rooms, through audio and video equipment on site, to Comcast for broadcast to its subscribers.
Historic City News was told in an e-mail from Ryan, that was copied by him to city officials Mark Knight and Paul Williamson as well as the St Johns County webmaster, Sandy Stokey; “due to ongoing quality-control and broadcasting interruption issues”, which he says impacted web streaming, St Johns County GTV acted to disconnect from the Comcast cable feed as their audio and video source for the Internet broadcast.
Instead, they connected their Internet stream directly to the GTV equipment — solving their broadcast problem, while exacerbating the problem for their client; the City of St Augustine and St Johns County citizens who depend on Internet access to GTV to observe public meetings of local government boards.
Ryan wrote in his response to Historic City News, that “unless the City has implemented an alternative method of streaming”, he did not expect their commission meetings to be available for viewing on the Internet. Ryan concluded, “The question of when the streaming of the City of St. Augustine’s Commission meetings will resume would be best addressed to the City of St. Augustine.”
Today’s announcement affects both live coverage of commission meetings and rebroadcast of all meetings previously available on Comcast cable GTV Channel 3, “due to equipment replacement by Comcast.”
“The loss of service was due to equipment failure that disrupted Comcast’s ability to broadcast any programming originating for GTV — including all St Johns County meetings as well as those of the City of St Augustine,” the announcement read.
According to Comcast officials, Williamson reported that the disruption could last several weeks. Williamson also acknowledged that “St Johns County altered its method of streaming its programming on-line” and recognized that the city lost that capability, as well.
The City of St Augustine Beach streams video content of their public government meetings directly to a third-party provider for viewing via a link on their website, in a similar fashion to the county. The City of St Augustine has yet to make such an arrangement with its website vendor — and obviously won’t find a resolution to the problem until they do. Although, in today’s communication, Williamson said, “Alternatives are being researched by the city to restore that on-line service as soon as possible.”