Spotlight Oakland: How Oakland, New Jersey became Altice’s test case for HD broadcast service

By Mark Albala, Vice Chairman, TV Committee, Oakland, New Jersey

Many of you do not know that the borough of Oakland was the test case for Altice’s HD service for municipal broadcasts.  The purpose of this article is to present the two-year journey of the dedicated team of volunteers, who partnered with Oakland’s elected officials and ultimately obtained permission from Altice to broadcast HD quality municipal coverage over Altice. 

While municipal broadcast service was available via Oakland TV historically, our mission to upgrade our broadcast to HD quality began in 2020 with the first rollout of HD quality service being achieved over Verizon FiOS in June 2021 and enabling HD broadcast of YouTube and LocalBTV streaming services shortly thereafter.  But it was not until November 2022 that broadcast service was upgraded to HD on Altice’s cable network.

Oakland TV booth equipment racks, August 1

This journey was taken because, as Ryan Schwerfeger, Chairman of the Oakland Communications Commission said, “In this current day, I think all local access channels would agree that HD should be the minimum broadcast quality going out to the public.  The linchpin for driving this decision was complaints from residents about the lackluster quality of municipal broadcasts available on the cable carrier covering the municipality of Oakland, namely Altice.  While I am grateful that the effort required to garner assistance from Verizon to help the community broadcast in HD was not herculean, that effort was not as straightforward when discussing our journey with Altice.  I am proud of our volunteers’ patience, persistence, and perseverance to see this to fruition, in addition to the elected officials that helped lead the charge in our quest.”

Grant Van Eck, council member of the borough of Oakland stated, “I am overjoyed for the community to finally have the Altice community access channel broadcasting at the industry standard of high definition. It was a vision I did my best to give leadership to in my capacity as an elected representative of the residents in Oakland. Without going into details, I can say it was quite a turbulent journey, but the Communications Commission and TV committee volunteer team were unwavering in their commitment to see this stretch goal come to fruition. As the great President Calvin Coolidge intelligently said, “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” The team did just that, united for the benefit of our local audience, and the result is truly fantastic!”

Oakland TV committee members taping the Memorial Day Parade 2023

Jim Barry, Chairman of the TV Committee stated, “It was astonishing to observe the dogged determination of my colleagues partnered with elected officials to ultimately navigate the bureaucracy from the carriers and finally complete our transition to HD by delivering the much-needed upgrade of service carried by Altice.”

The key to obtaining Altice’s granting authority for Oakland, NJ to broadcast municipal coverage in HD ultimately came down to the persistence demonstrated by the members of the TV committee and the elected council members who joined together to lead this important charge.  “The Borough is grateful for Altice USA’s pilot program for our local Access Television Channel”, said Oakland Mayor Linda H. Schwager.  “We hope that the switch to HD continues to increase our viewership and promote community involvement”.  

The persistence is easily demonstrated through the following:

  • Many senior citizens and others within the community, who are subscribers to Altice for cable television, raised concerns that the quality of the signal and the poor mono audio of the signal made it virtually unwatchable.  Many of the senior members of our community who raised these concerns do not have access to the other venues in which the municipal broadcasts are made available.
  • The committee enlisted the assistance of our town liaison, Grant Van Eck, who was instrumental through the entire two-year journey.  Grant initiated the council resolution requesting Altice to enhance the video made available to the community to HD broadcast service.  This resolution was passed twice because of the elapsed time required to enable HD service.
  • The Communications Commission garnered the participation of Robert Auth, one of our two state representatives serving Oakland, New Jersey.
  • The Communications Commission made it a point to consistently reach out to Altice to continually stress the importance of this HD service to the Oakland community at-large.
  • The assistance of the Jersey Access Group was obtained after challenges garnering Verizon’s agreement to broadcast in HD.  We used a properly worded request similar to the one utilized in Oradell, New Jersey as provided by Jersey Access Group members to request HD service broadcast over Verizon FIOS, which ultimately was successful.  While provisioning HD service from Verizon was likely a contributing factor in Altice’s agreement to grant HD service, there is no way to assess the impact Verizon’s decision to provision HD service to Oakland had on Altice’s decision.
  • The availability of an all-fiber network within Oakland.  Altice stated that having a fiber backbone was a prerequisite for considering an upgrade to HD service.  While Altice has accelerated this upgrading of their fiber broadband network to their full complement of serviced communities, a request for HD service will only be successful in communities where Altice has upgraded their network to fiber. Because Altice is physically located in the Oakland Industrial Park, Oakland, New Jersey was included in the earlier phases of the Altice’s strategic rollout of their all-fiber broadband network.
  • According to Ryan Schwertfeger, the Chair of the Oakland Communications Commission, “While I’m sure we were an easy choice for Altice for Oakland to serve as the test community for broadcasting HD, what it really came down to was out concerted and continued pressure that led to Altice’s decision to enable Oakland’s municipal broadcast in the HD roster of channels.” 
Oakland TV Committee taping the Council Meeting, February, 2023

The fact that we had been able to broadcast HD over Verizon and other venues within Oakland raised complaints that marginalized consumers of Altice’s service because others had HD available to them, which helped fuel our mission to upgrade all broadcast venues to HD.  JAG was instrumental in wording our request to Verizon properly so that we could deliver HD to the other cable subscribers of Oakland (Verizon FiOS), which, once enabled, added fuel to the mission for an Altice HD broadcast.

In closing, Ryan mentioned how we have learned a lot from other communities within JAG family of communities who helped us envision the many ways we could improve the service we provide to the community.  Per Ryan, “I can’t tell you how proud I felt walking around this past conference and hearing Oakland’s name being dropped by a few people as a community doing something right or being ahead of the curve on the topic. I hope we can keep our momentum going with our all-volunteer crew and I hope we can help all the JAG member communities out like all of you have helped our station.”