Illustration by Arnel Reynon
At a time when more people are streaming video content on their smartphones, Chesterfield County is hoping to become current with its own version of "must-see" TV.
Later this year, Chesterfield officials say, Comcast Channel 98 could begin airing county-produced special features, community events and government meetings. Comcast Corp. allocated the channel to Chesterfield for public-access programming. The mass media company also will fund the county's purchase of broadcasting equipment.
Comcast's support will come from so-called PEG fees that a cable operator tacks on to its subscribers' monthly bills to help localities provide residents with public, educational and government broadcasting, as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission. Chesterfield's programming also will be available to customers of Verizon FiOS.
"The TV channel will come at no cost to our taxpayers," says Don Kappel, who shepherded it from concept to reality before retiring in February as director of Chesterfield County's public affairs department.
The City of Richmond uses public-access broadcasting — though not its own exclusive channel — to air its council meetings. Chesterfield, however, will have a dedicated channel, meaning the county is responsible for filling time slots with in-house programming. That has Kappel's 12-person team scrambling to create original programs.
Henrico County similarly launched HCTV in 2003, airing on Comcast Channel 17 and Verizon Channel 39. HCTV does not receive PEG fees from cable operators; it's funded through Henrico's general budget, says spokeswoman Tamra McKinney.
Once Chesterfield purchases broadcasting equipment, its public affairs department will begin training staff how to shoot, edit and produce video. Kappel projects that programs will start on the new channel before the end of the year and will include features on Chesterfield's history, lifestyle, neighborhoods and businesses. When original programming isn't on-air, the channel will present a community bulletin board for upcoming events or breaking announcements, such as weather advisories.
"We're very big on providing information to people in as many ways as possible," he says. "A TV channel just puts another arrow in our quiver."