TV problems? Take it to City Hall!By Joan Levy
If you don't live in San Bruno, you may not know they have their own municipal cable television service! Back in the olden days of cable TV, San Bruno decided to provide that service to its residents as a city function.
In the real olden days of television, people who lived beyond line-of-sight of the transmitters sometimes had 40-foot antennas on the roofs of their houses. As a matter of fact, some people had just the antennas, to make their neighbors think they had television, when they hadn't yet actually invested in the set itself. In those days you had to deal with something called "snow" and you had to know how to operate the vertical and horizontal hold buttons on the back of your black and white television sets. On occasion, if the weather was stormy, you had to forego television altogether because the reception was so bad. Windy weather could also blow down those antennas, so additional repair costs could be involved.
Then, along came cable television. All of these problems of antennas and faulty reception could be solved for a modest fee! Even channels that had been hard so receive at all could now be tuned in. Cable companies negotiated with municipalities for franchises to provide this service. It was not feasible back in those analog days to have more than one system in an area. So when potential cable providers approached San Bruno in 1967, the city decided to study the community's interest in the matter.
A study of around 10,000 residents indicated a significant number of potential subscribers and also an interest in handling it as a city project. As a result, in April of 1971, Jerrold Electronics was contracted by the city to design and build the first phase of San Bruno's cable system. A second and third phase were completed by 1975, each financed with the money generated by the system itself.
At first the service cost 75 cents per month and provided 12 broadcast channels. This was expanded to 19 channels in 1977. The addition of Home Box Office increased gross revenues by 50 percent. By 1983, the 24-channel system was at full capacity. Upgrades, replacements and expansions have gone on during all the years since. The system now can offer 78 analog and 200 digital channels and high-speed data service. They have the potential to serve 15,300 homes and currently have 75 percent penetration for monthly cable service. They claim to have state-of-the-art technology. The system has continued to be self-sustaining, and pays 5 percent of its gross revenue into the city's general fund, just as a private franchise would. In addition, they are able to pay another 10 percent to the city in what would be considered profit to the owners if it were a regular business.
Basic cable now costs $18.76 and various packages go up from there, including premium channels and pay-per-view. In addition there is high-speed Internet service available. A by-product of the system is an internal communication network for city departments and schools.
San Bruno Municipal Cable TV is one of the largest city-owned cable systems in the United States. It would seem that the decision made by San Bruno's City Council back in the 1967 has paid off for the residents of that city.
Copyright ©2007 San Mateo Daily Journal. Published 06/11/2007.