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Questions about Putnam access channel raised

WINFIELD, W.Va. --  Questions about the handling of Putnam's government access channel have been raised after a lengthy debate about what Suddenlink Communications is required to provide.

Commissioners heard from a Suddenlink representative and Michael Karr, who has overseen the channel for about a year. The two have been disputing whether the company should be required to provide free Internet access to maintain the channel.

The channel acts as a community bulletin board for area events and meetings and also provides weather updates. Federal law requires cable providers like Suddenlink to provide government access channels to citizens willing to maintain them.

Karr, a self-employed voiceover artist with several years experience in broadcasting, entered an agreement with the county last year to maintain the channel at no charge.

He said Tuesday he believed Suddenlink should have been providing him free Internet access at his home to update the channel remotely.

Michael Keleman with Suddenlink said that's not the case.

"[Karr] is stating we provide free network service to other counties and that's not true," Keleman said.

If the county wants to make Suddenlink pay for the access, they can in December when their contract is renewed, Keleman said. However, the cost would be passed on to customers in the county.

Commissioner Steve Andes said if the contract didn't reflect Suddenlink is required to provide Internet access, the county isn't going to ask them to.

"We'd like to have the channel. I never figured we'd have this much trouble trying to provide information for the citizens of Putnam County," Andes said. "We certainly don't want to pass off any additional costs to citizens."

Karr, who has not paid for Internet since April, said after hearing Keleman's comments, if Suddenlink would forgive his debt occurred because of the misunderstanding, "I'll start paying out of pocket and start anew."

Keleman told commissioners he didn't have the authority to make that decision.

Andes also raised questions about what he says appear to be commercials aired on the station.

"If you're selling commercial time, I don't think that's right," Andes said.

Karr said they're not commercials, but sponsorships.

At a meeting in March 2011, Karr said he planned to use sponsorships to pay the cost of broadcasting the channel out of his home and had said he eventually hoped to make some money.

Kelemen, who was also at the meeting last year, said at the time that because Karr wants to make money on the broadcasts, his use of the channel would fall under "leased access" rather than "government access." Suddenlink normally charges $4,000 per month for a similar service using leased access.

Before Karr took over, Suddenlink had already operated a public access channel for the county, which had been criticized for keeping outdated information on community announcements.

Last year, Andes voted against the arrangement with Karr, who is the husband of county attorney Jennifer Scragg Karr.

"I'm not happy with the whole situation," Andes said.


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