Pittsburgh cable TV grants paid incorrectly to public access channel, audit finds

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Every year, Verizon and Comcast provide grants to the city of Pittsburgh through franchise agreements, money that is supposed to be used to fund both the city's in-house cable bureau and to public access channels.

But an audit by City Controller Michael Lamb found the lion's share of that money went to public access channels -- administered by the nonprofit PCTV -- while the city's own cable bureau, which operates the City Channel, barely scraped by.

"A great deal of the funding has been directed to PCTV at the expense of our cable bureau," he said at a news conference today.

The results of Mr. Lamb's audit comes about six months after City Council largely rectified the problem with a resolution that splits the money evenly between the two groups. This means the cable bureau, which has been operating with antiquated equipment for years, will finally get capital upgrades.

Mr. Lamb's audit found that $350,000 that should have gone to the cable bureau instead went to PCTV, meaning the nonprofit got a total of $1.6 million over about four years. He didn't lay blame on any particular official or department for the discrepancy.

As part of contracts between the city and its cable providers -- Verizon and Comcast -- the two companies also agreed to give the city grants and money collected from a per-subscriber fee.

The agreements, signed in 2009 and 2010, called for the cable bureau to receive all of the grant money. But in early 2011, when the city renewed its agreement with PCTV, it radically altered the allocation of the funds.

The change came as a result of a council resolution passed in 2009 that called for the split to be determined by a committee. But council members last year disagreed that the resolution gave the city carte blanche authority to create a new agreement with PCTV that gave it the bulk of the money.

This resulted in PCTV receiving more than $1 million in city money, while the resource-starved cable bureau got just $280,000 to be used for capital improvements.

After it was discovered, council immediately passed a resolution that created an equitable split of the money. The resolution, passed in late September, also authorized the controller to audit the grant funds.


Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.

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