Reach New Product Release

By Steve Valenti, President, FM Valenti

Introducing the new interAct6 auto tracking and switching lecture/event capture and streaming device from Reach.  This 4th generation streaming and recording engine uses Artificial Intelligence to automate wide and close up shots of the presenter and audience to make any presentation, town hall meeting or lecture look professional – all without the need for mats, fobs, volunteers, editors, or production assistance.

Let the interAct6 take control and automatically manage your event, or go manual and take control of cameras, image switching, transition and titling.  With an onboard 11” touchscreen and POE switch, the interAct6 is easy to set up and operate.

The last year has clearly demonstrated the need for capturing and sharing content remotely and in a way that engages the viewer with multiple camera angles and multi-media content.  The interAct 6 takes control of two 4k cameras placed around the room as well as presentation content and uses a combination of Auto-Tracking and Smart Switching technology to keep the content and viewer engaged!

The Reach interAct6 integration into Zoom, Meets, Teams etc… allows for remote viewers of an event to interAct and keep remote viewers immersed in the presentation. Clearly see both the remote audience and in person local participants and all their reactions to the presenter and never miss a beat!

Make your meetings come to life with the Reach interAct 6.

Join us for our presentation at JAG’s General Meeting on March 31, 2021 at 12.12pm.

Independent Producers Corner

Dustin Dumas, Producer, Station Manager, SOMA-TV

What do poor lighting, indecipherable audio, busy backgrounds and improperly set video cameras have in common, they make poorly produced shows, every time. This is never what you want for your show if you can prevent it and, fortunately, it is something that can be prevented with a little preparation and knowledge.

I am Dustin Dumas and I have been part of community television stations in Illinois, California and New Jersey so I have covered both coasts and the Midwest. I have seen many different styles of television production and have learned a lot along the way. I am a host, producer and station manager; however, in this column I am focusing on independent producers. While this information will certainly help independent producers, it will also help others who want to elevate the production quality of their shows. Since most stations that are producing community shows during the Pandemic are taping virtually, I will address that form of taping in this column.

Online Web Conference Tools

First, let us discuss the web conference services available. Choose one that you are comfortable with and then make sure your guest is comfortable with that specific tool. Every web conference tool has its own nuances and it is best to know where basic things are, such as the mute button, how to select gallery view versus speaker view and other basic functions. Since most independent producers will have dual responsibilities, as both host and engineer for a show, go over the specific buttons so you know where they are before taping. After you have decided on the best web conference tool for your show, walk your guests through the technology. Never assume that they understand how to use that tool even if they have been using the same technology for months during virtual meetings. Passive users who use that same tool during a meeting, may be flummoxed by something as simple as screen sharing during a live taping so go over any function of the particular web conferencing tool you will use. Now that you have decided on the tool you will use, let’s cover four important aspects of a successful web conference taping: audio, video, background and lighting.

Audio

The independent producer no longer has the convenience of being in the studio where the audio is handled by the studio engineer. In the past all that was required was a mic check from the control room. You, and your guests, are now responsible for determining the best audio for your show. Whether you use an internal mic or an external mic, test the mic before taping, always. Even if your mic quality is fine, your guests now have to determine the audio quality of their mics, something they may not know how to do without assistance. Since some guests may choose wireless versus wired headphones, check audio equipment for sound consistency. I have had to help guests find their mic settings to adjust them since most have never had to deal with this. However, as an independent producer, it behooves you to make sure all participants understand how to adjust their audio settings to get the best quality end product. There is nothing more frustrating to viewers who have to hear several rounds of “Can you hear me?” when this could have been avoided with a mic check before taping.

Video

Now that independent producers have become consultants for their own shows, they have to manage everything before every virtual taping, including video. I prefer the external video cameras since cameras that are built into laptops and monitors were never intended to be used for taping television shows. Using internal cameras, may result in letterboxing, pixelation or a myriad of other things that will diminish the quality of your overall show. The good thing is that external video cameras are relatively inexpensive with many being under $50.00. So a small investment can elevate the overall quality of your show. However, if a built-in camera is the only option, make sure it is set to the best quality available for your device. This could mean, for example, going from 540p to 720p if 720 is your max.

Another reason to choose external cameras is that they usually include a mic. The microphone in an external camera may be superior to the internal microphone of your device. Just as you would test your microphone, test your camera before you tape a show and assist your guests in testing their cameras too. Your guests may not be used to adjusting the video settings but it will increase the overall quality of your video. In addition to checking the video settings, ensure a great video by placing the camera so that each person is in the center of the frame and is looking straight into the video, not leaning down or looking up. The viewers should not be able to see the ceiling or the floor, just the person in the frame, straight on. This will make a huge difference when taping a show. A head and shoulders picture is best as it will allow for postproduction edits such a lower third titling. If the subject is too close to the camera, the lower third titles may be across the subject’s chin or neck. If the camera is too far from the subject’s face, the lower third titling could be across the subject’s stomach. A solid head and shoulders shot will ensure that lower third titles will be placed properly in your video. And never underestimate the usefulness of a good lens cloth. I once had the experience of helping a guest adjust his camera settings, to find that there was still a haze over the entire picture. I suggested that he wipe the lens and that cleared everything up, pun intended. Seriously though, some of the most basic housekeeping can result in better image quality.

Background

Some web conferencing tools will allow everything from virtual backgrounds to added animation. My focus today is on the real backgrounds. If you and your guests have taken the time to dress appropriately and check the equipment, ensure your room is camera ready. This means both you and your guests must be aware that what is seen in the background will be seen on television. An unkempt background will have viewers wondering what is in the corner instead of focusing on what is being said and may actually decrease your credibility. A jackhammer may have viewers thinking about possible renovations, an unmade bed may have viewers wondering if that speaker just woke up and cases of paper products may have viewers assuming that you have just returned from Costco. These are all examples of things that I have seen and wondered about myself.

Avoid lopsided shows where the host has prepared a great background but the guest’s background looks messy and disorganized. It will not only diminish the credibility of the guest but lowers the overall production quality of your show. It is up to you to speak with your guest about the importance of a neat background. I have seen many otherwise good shows, ruined due to a messy background by one of the parties involved in the taping. It is fine to show your personality in your background but just keep it neat. Taping in front of a plain wall is fine too. It’s clean and will ensure that viewers focus on your every word.

Lighting

Last, but not least, is lighting. I cannot emphasize enough that lighting works in concert with the other elements discussed above and is just as important. The light source should come from in front of the subject and, if possible, include light sources on either side of the subject and above, for balance. If in doubt, turn on every light source you have, overhead, in front and on the sides. I have yet to see a video that has too much light so always err on the side of what you perceive as too much light as opposed to too little light. You can always look at your monitor to see how you appear. We no longer have the studio lights, which are more powerful and brighter than anything we have in our homes, so when in doubt, add more light. In addition, in lower light, most cameras will attempt to brighten the video and the tradeoff may be a slightly brighter but grainy video which never looks good. If you have a subject who is completely silhouetted in a video, that is usually due to backlighting without an equivalent front light source. A window will create such a silhouette. A simple and easy way to prevent this is to reposition the camera and subject so that the natural light source is in front of the subject or add a light in front of the subject and on the sides to balance out the backlight.

Audio, video, background and lighting are a few of the many things that an independent producer must focus on when taping outside of the studio. But if these four areas are done well, the final show will be successful look great and the information from you and your guest will be well received.

Dustin Dumas is the host and producer of Dustin’s Kaleidoscope and What’s Up Around Town. She is the station manager of SOMA (South Orange Maplewood) Television and serves as Vice Chair on the Jersey Access Group, External Relations Committee.

President’s Message, March 2021

by Bob Duthaler

JAG’s Voice Heard at BPU/Verizon Franchise Renewal

A lot changed in less than a month since I reported to you about JAG speaking out at the Verizon Franchise renewal during the BPU’s hearing along with the webinar we held.  The BPU released the notice on Verizon’s Franchise renewal and wouldn’t you know, JAG’s name was mentioned in it.  Not only was our testimony sited, but others who spoke backed JAG and our comments.  The BPU was also in agreement on our comments and thought Verizon needed to step-up, provide an HD channel and provide the necessary contact, training and listings in the digital guide.  Below are some segments I wanted to share with you in the BPU’s Franchise Document.

PUBLIC COMMENTS

At both hearings, comments were provided by Verizon which asserted that the applicant had satisfied all of its current franchise requirements and noted that its performance had been reviewed by the Board in the May 5, 2020 Ascertainment Report. Verizon stated that its franchise encompasses 392 municipalities and provides service to 372 municipalities by offering service that is competitively provided, that it delivers hundreds of high definition channels, and expounded upon the wide range of programming sources available to its customers. Verizon touted its financial investment in the State as an employer and through its capital investment in its network, as well as, the beneficial financial support provided to the municipalities through the franchise fees paid by the applicant. Verizon indicated that it has met its statutory deployment requirements and, since 2013, it has expanded its service territory to additional municipalities, as well as, made Fios TV available to 500,000 additional subscribers. Verizon noted it currently offers Fios TV to more than 60 percent of the households in two thirds of the other municipalities within the franchise territory. Additionally, Verizon stated that it is meeting the statutory requirement of providing Public, Educational and Government access (“PEG”) channels, along with training and equipment to support the PEG channels and free services in 310 municipalities across the state. Verizon noted that by providing the PEG channels, it is providing the public, local governments and schools with an opportunity to provide local programming and information….

…Those who spoke in favor of conditional approval were: Bob Duthaler, President of JAG; David Garb, Vice President of JAG; and Alex Rubenstein, Mayor of Byram Township. The representatives of JAG stated that while the Verizon FiOS service is good, there are several issues that should be addressed during the renewal. The issues JAG discussed included requiring Verizon to provide PEG equipment and training; provide a contact person to municipalities for PEG training and equipment requests; requiring PEG channels be listed in Verizon’s Guide; and require Verizon to address the disparity of PEG channels being cablecast in Standard Definition (SD) as opposed to High Definition (HD). JAG argues that HD is the method Verizon utilizes for broadcasting all other channels except PEG channels, and the broadcast of PEG channels in SD produces poor picture quality for the statutorily required PEG channels. JAG also provided written comments to the Board. Mayor Rubenstein concurred with JAG’s comments and requested that Verizon’s franchise territory be expanded to encompass all of the 526 municipalities where Verizon provides telecommunications service…

… At the October 1, 2020 hearing, the following entities participated in the hearing and spoke in favor of conditional approval: Brian Wahler, Mayor of Piscataway Township; Theresa Berger, Mayor of- Howell Township; Alex Rubenstein, Mayor of Byram Township; Nick Besink, Oradell Township PEG Channel; and George Fairfield, Station Manager, Piscataway Community Television Station. Mayor Wahler reiterated JAG’s requests and spoke to the issue of the PEG channels being carried in SD, which is problematic due to the degraded picture quality, as well as, the inability to get parts for the outdated SD technology, which could result in the municipalities reaching a point where they will not be able to program the PEG channels. In addition, Mayor Wahler requested a return system to allow monitoring of the PEG channels, as well as, requiring that the PEG channels be listed in Verizon’s Guide. Mayor Berger of Howell Township requested the expansion of Verizon’s service area because only a small portion of Howell currently receives Verizon’s FiOS service and there are problems with the incumbent operator. Howell Township requested the service area be expanded to provide a competitive entity and offer improved services. Mayor Rubinstein of Byram Township noted the Township would be adopting a formal Resolution to be submitted, and read a portion of the Resolution into the record, which requested that Verizon be required to provide competitive cable and internet service to all municipalities in which they operate. Nick Besink of Oradell PEG channel commended Verizon for being responsive, but noted that since approximately 2009 all television networks have switched to HD technology, except for PEG. The problem with SD is that the technology has become obsolete, replacement equipment is no longer being made and is impossible to obtain. He noted the importance of the carriage of local PEG programming during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the importance of local information being readily available. He also requested the expansion of the franchise territory, as well as, requiring Verizon to carry PEG programming on its Guide. George Fairfield, Station Manager of Piscataway Community Television Station and a member of JAG, stated that he supports all requests from Mayor Wahler and JAG, and noted that more residents would like to have access to FiOS as it is a good product…

…Rate Counsel believes that Verizon has substantially met the provision of service requirements delineated under the State Cable Act and under the applicable sections of the Board’s regulations. However, Rate Counsel’s support for approval of Verizon NJ’s SWF Renewal is conditioned on Verizon NJ’s commitment to swiftly and without delay upgrade PEG transmission equipment so that programming occurs via HD transmission. Rate Counsel particularly notes its alarm at the public comments that indicate the equipment that provides transmission in analog format (the only format Verizon appears to accept for PEG programming) is in disrepair with replacement parts limited and unavailable in the near future. They noted that this presents a danger that promised services ensuring PEG programming used by municipalities to provide emergency notice to residents are at risk. Rate Counsel found this to be unacceptable under both State and Federal service obligations, and therefore, called for an immediate resolution to this issue.

Additionally, and based on the same concerns previously expressed, Rate Counsel agrees with commentors that PEG channel locations must be clearly disclosed in Verizon NJ’s channel lineup. Rate Counsel agrees that now more than ever due to increased storm activity and the current COVID-19 pandemic, town residents will need access to information provided on their PEG stations.

Rate Counsel also urges the Board to require Verizon NJ to immediately provide the necessary PEG equipment upgrades and training, and require inclusion of PEG channel locations in Verizon’s lineup, particular to each town served….

The BPU later on in the documents, summarizes the comments and the Board recommends that Verizon Franchise Renewal should take place but that Verizon should address the issues that were brought up.  Below is a portion of what the BPU board said.

…N.J.S.A. 48:5A-28(i) requires the applicant for a SWF provide a commitment to provide each municipality with two (2) PEG channels, as stated. In taking into consideration the provision of the PEG access channels in SD, it is noted that several municipalities, as well as, Rate Counsel have stated that community needs for the provision of PEG access channels are not being met.

The parties noted that the PEG access channels are an important source of public information on a local level, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the Board as the federally-recognized local franchising authority (LFA), may establish requirements for PEG channels to be provided in a manner that addresses community needs.10 Although the Petitioner provides the PEG channels, they are provided only in SD which produces problems with signal quality, while providing all other channels in HD, which Verizon and a number of commenters have stated provides higher quality service. It appears that Verizon is capable of correcting the poor signal quality issue by broadcasting the PEG channels in HD. Therefore, while the Board as LFA is not inclined to deny the SWF based on the above issue, it is recommended that Verizon be required to take corrective action of this issue as a condition of the renewal of the SWF.

N.J.S.A. 48:5A-28(l) requires the applicant to provide a commitment to provide equipment and training to access users. A number of parties stated that Verizon was not providing the required training and equipment, and requested a designated contact from Verizon to assist the municipalities. It is noted that Verizon has provided the information requested to OCTV&T regarding the equipment and training, as well as, provided the municipalities with info on the designated contact. It is recommended that Verizon provide reports to OCTV&T staff regarding the provision of PEG equipment and training.

N.J.S.A. 48:5A-28(m) requires that the applicant shall provide a return feed from any one location in the municipality without charge to the CATV company’s headend or other location of interconnection to the cable television system for public, educational or governmental use. The return feed, at a minimum, must provide the ability for the municipality to cablecast live or taped access programming in real time, as may be applicable, to the CATV’s customers in the municipality. However, no CATV company is responsible for providing a return access feed unless a municipality requests such feed in writing. Several parties, including the Mayor of Piscataway, noted a lack of return line which Verizon is required to provide upon written request from the requesting municipality.

Additionally, several parties have noted that the PEG channels are not listed in the channel guide. Verizon has provided the OCTV&T staff with information indicating that the PEG access channels are listed on their guide and have provided information to that end. The OCTV&T staff will monitor this issue to ensure Verizon is meeting all notice requirements for channel allocation…

The complete BPU Document on the Verizon Franchise Renewal will be made available in the Members Only Section of the JAG website.  Please feel free to go to the website and download the document and share with your municipality.  In addition, if you are ready to move on Verizon giving you a channel in HD, I would suggest that you reach out to your Broadcast Server Provider and make sure your equipment is ready to give the proper HD Signal.  Once you have confirmed this, you should reach out to Verizon (see past article in newsletter for contact information) to make arrangements to have your channel updated.  Please note this will not happen immediately, but Verizon will be willing to work with you to make this happen.  There is no doubt this will make a huge difference in the way our channels are viewed and will highlight the great quality programming that we create.

Broadcasting in a Virtual World

By Jesse Lerman, President and CEO, TelVue Corporation

Between advancements in technology and the pandemic, the progression to an increasingly virtual world is accelerating. Almost everything is veering virtual – work, school, meetings, events, conferences, major motion picture releases, doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, you name it. While vaccines will hopefully reopen the world soon this year, there is little doubt that virtual is here to stay, including throughout the broadcast industry.
For community broadcasters, the virtual trend might have started with establishing remote access to existing, on-premise equipment, and a few live feeds migrating from dedicated meeting rooms to streaming video conferencing platforms like Zoom. Even this first step presented new challenges for broadcast engineers and operators–as you were used to having hands-on access to everything in your broadcast chain.


At this point it is clear that remote live production will quickly become the norm, and more of your equipment and applications will move to the cloud. IP video, cloud integrations, and mobile devices are becoming the glue for broadcasters in a virtual world, and will change the way we think about workflow, operations, redundancy, and high availability.


The same trends are driving changes in viewer habits. In a virtual world, viewers expect programming to be easy to find with instant access on a variety of devices, including mobile phones while on-the-go. From traditional broadcast to OTT, Social Media to phones and apps, your channels and content need to be everywhere.


TelVue has long embraced new industry trends to make the migration to modern broadcasting easy for community broadcasters.


● We partnered with you to move from tape swaps and DVD drop-offs to the JAG Media Exchange on TelVue Connect.


● The PEG.TV streaming platform developed into CloudCast, complete with mobile apps for iOS & Android, OTT apps for Roku, Apple TV, and Fire TV, and podcasting.


● The original Princeton Server Group channel-in-box evolved into the modern TelVue HyperCaster AIO, and virtual HyperCasters for 100% Cloud broadcasting.


It has been exciting to work with so many JAG stations through major industry transitions including analog to digital, SD to HD, baseband to IP video, and now to virtual and cloud.


Join TelVue virtually at the February 24th JAG meeting to discuss the evolution of community broadcasting in a virtual world. At the meeting we will demonstrate and review:

● the latest features in HyperCaster v7, “where automation rules”, specifically for streamlining remote operations, managing remote live meetings and events, and increasing automation to save you time scheduling, acquiring programming, enhancing the on-air look of your channels, and delivering your content to more viewing destinations.


● how you can automatically and affordably Live caption your programming with HyperCaster v7.3, no additional hardware required. Captioning is great for both accessibility and for making it possible for viewers to search meetings for topics of interest.


● The latest IP video protocols and provide tips on best uses and practices for live production, meetings, sports, sharing live programs, and social media.

● how easy it is to launch your own Apple & Android mobile phone apps with CloudCast, in addition to OTT apps on Roku, Apple, TV, and Amazon Fire TV.


We will also share our 2021 roadmap that includes even more automation, plus streaming & app “paywall” monetization for new sources of revenue. As always, we hope to get some great feedback from you to help us shape our products and services to be virtually future-proof. We are looking forward to seeing you virtually at the next JAG meeting!

Asbury Park TV (APTV) Takes on the Coronavirus


By Ed Salvas, Secretary, Asbury Park Cable TV Advisory Committee

January 2020 marked the beginning of the eighth year on the air for the Asbury Park Cable TV station, better known around the shore community as APTV. But 2020 would soon become a year of challenges for the station, and for viewers of its programs on Cablevision/Optimum and Verizon FiOS.
Staffed by volunteers and part time technicians and advised by a committee of nine members, the city recognized there was a need for APTV to have a full time Station Manager and begin an expansion to include a second channel and upgrade of its equipment. Station Manager Nate McCallister was scheduled to start on Monday, March 16.


That was the day City Hall was closed because of the rapidly spreading Covid 19 Pandemic and everyone was working from home. With Nate’s background in commercial TV, he was able to keep the station on the air and provide information and entertainment to a community that was stuck at home.


During the Pandemic we curated dozens of PSAs on Covid 19 from the CDC, state and county. These ranged from preventing infections through mask-wearing, hand washing, and social distancing, detecting infections in yourself and others, caring for infections, contact tracing and minimizing stress. Because schools were closed and classes were held remotely, we had discussions on talking with children about a Pandemic and returning to school and returning to work. We also utilized the station to share free Covid 19 testing dates and locations and now information about getting the vaccine.


Asbury Park Mayor John Moor appeared on APTV to help communicate the new rules in place as the summer season approached with limited dining and the city’s popular nightclubs, including the Stone Pony, Paramount Theater and Convention Hall, closed and daily beach badge sales limited. Government continued to function with the City Council, and the various Boards and Commissions taking to ZOOM for meetings, hosted by APTV.
At the same time, APTV began laying the groundwork for “APTV-2.” McCallister said APTV plans to use the second TV channel as an information hub for all city residents, employees and business owners and tourists. Using digital signage hardware and software from our longtime partner TelVue, APTV will have up to the minute weather event and safety information available via cable TV, the website, www.AsburyParkTV.com , and the Roku/Apple apps. Rollout is expected in the Spring 2021. APTV serves the city of Asbury Park on Optimum channels 77 and 116 and Verizon FiOS channels 28 and 30.


The new channel is not the only new development at APTV. Changes are also planned in other areas where the technology that was available in 2013 has been replaced by newer technology for the 21st century. APTV last year purchased a Sling Studio for use in multi-camera situations. The Sling Studio was first used to live stream the Asbury Park High School Graduation, which took place in the summer because of Covid 19 restrictions. The outdoor ceremony has been viewed more than 500 times. The station also added a new SONY Camcorder, a SONY 4k, model PXW-Z150. Other improvements are being considered for the Council Chambers. Originally, there was just one camera mounted on a tripod that was replaced by two PTZ cameras from GRAMCO which also updated the audio system in the room.


Hopefully, the Council and the public will be able to return to City Hall when the world returns to “normal.”

Announcing the JAG YouTube Channel


In our continuing effort to enhance the Social Media profile of JAG, through the efforts of the Production and External Relations committees, we are proud to announce the launch of the JAG YouTube Channel. You can find the new channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmA3j3MeNeEjN5WkZarVilQ. We are asking all our members to subscribe so you will receive notices when new shows are posted. We need to get 100 subscribers to get our own JAG YouTube URL.


It is our hope that the YouTube Channel will become a showcase for the outstanding work of our stations, religious institutions and independent producers. The channel will launch with productions from our local JAG stations and some older material produced by member stations from the JAG produced “Access New Jersey” shows. The material posted to the channel should be not time sensitive and should have appeal to an audience beyond your local township. Once you are subscribed, you can sit back and enjoy the outstanding work of your JAG colleagues. Below are the instructions as to how to add a video to the channel.


Please consider adding material to the Channel. It can only be as good as the content that our members supply. If you are a Municipal or Access Channel this will give you another venue to showcase your best work. If you are an Independent Producer, this is yet another way to distribute your program. The kinds of material that you might consider adding would include:


• Profiles of interesting people in your community—artists, authors, business executives
• Concerts or other music programs with universal appeal
• Shows based on history or historic events
• Children’s shows
• Shows on Nature, Climate Change, and Environmental issues
• Health related programs with universal topics
• Lectures with prominent thought leaders in your community


In short, any kind of programs that are timeless and have universal appeal.
Please note that members of the Production and External Relations Committees will review videos for approval before they will be added to the YouTube page. Thanks to Doug Seidel and Robert Horvath for their contributions to the development of the Channel.


How to submit your video for the JAG YouTube:


Do you have a YouTube account for your station/show/entity?
Just send the URL for the video and it will be added to the playlist on the JAG channel, plus you still get the view counts for anyone that watches it.


Do you have the video on the shared connect server?
Be sure it is shared with the JAG group and send an email letting us know you would like to submit that video for the channel. It will be downloaded and then uploaded to the YouTube page.


Don’t have connect or a YouTube page?
Upload the video to a file transfer site like dropbox, google drive or wetransfer and send it over to Doug Seidel at the email address listed below. It will be downloaded and then uploaded to the YouTube page.

dseidel@piscatawaynj.org

President’s Message Feb. 2021


To Conference or Not To Conference? We Have The Answer


It’s no surprise that JAG did not hold an in-person conference during the midst of the pandemic in 2020. Not only was it not safe for our staff, members, vendors and guests – the State of New Jersey had declared a state of emergency. We weren’t alone. The NATOA national conference, New Jersey League of Municipalities and even the ACM went virtual.
Now it’s the year 2021 and it was the hope of the organization that we could hold an in-person event again. Unfortunately, there was no magic at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. The pandemic is still an issue throughout the country. We might be on the right path with people practicing social distancing and the vaccines being introduced, but now is still not the time to hold a big event like our conference in a closed, indoor space. Again, we are not alone. Both the ACM and NATOA are doing virtual events for their upcoming conferences. NAB has moved their event to the end of 2021 and NJLOM is hopeful for a late November conference again in Atlantic City.


Let me jump back to the title of this article, “To Conference or Not To Conference? We Have The Answer”. Good news, JAG does have the answer! We are going to do a virtual event this year. The goal is to provide a wide variety of informational & education sessions, vendor presentations and networking. The details are to be worked out and I need your input and help.


To help shape this event and make it successful for JAG Members, vendors, sponsors and the JAG Organization we need to create a conference committee made up of people who will be invested in this event. That is why I am reaching out to our membership to get people involved. Let me start with this, here is my email address: bduthaler@jagonline.org . Please send me an email ASAP letting me know you are interested. I will reach out to you and get you involved with the committee. The next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, February 18th @ 2pm. We will be meeting virtually.
Here are some things that we are currently thinking about:


1) Conference Date: May or June?
2) How many days?
3) What days of the week and time?
4) What sessions would our members like?
5) What vendors would you like us to get involved?
6) How can we incorporate the JAG Awards?


The only way we can answer these questions and provide the best possible conference, is to get the membership involved. We need members to be invested in the conference. On the plus side, this is a virtual event. We are not asking you to do heavy lifting, travel long miles or even stay overnight at a hotel. We are asking for your number one quality – your thoughts! Your input is vital to make this event successful. Let me restate my contact information, here is my email address: bduthaler@jagonline.org Please send me an email ASAP letting me know you are interested. I will reach out to you and get you involved with the committee. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, February 17th @ 2pm. We will be meeting virtually.


Finally, as I mentioned each month in my article, JAG as an organization is a very social group. Face to face interaction at this point continues to not be possible but there are work arounds. I encourage you to take part in these events, webinars, monthly virtual meetings, impromptu online gatherings and perhaps an online happy hour! Stay Home, Stay Safe and make the most of this time with your family and loved ones.

Bob Duthaler

President, Jersey Access Group

Comments on the Statewide Renewal of Verizon – Update

As most of you should be aware at this point, Verizon came before the Board of Public Utilities in September 2020 for the Franchise Renewal. The stakeholders and public were given a chance to speak at this meeting. Dave Garb and I constructed a letter that we sent to the BPU (see below), and I spoke at the hearing. It was never JAG’s intention to deny franchise renewal to Verizon, but rather to hold their feet to the fire so to speak on promises made and not kept, along with things missing that hurt PEG Stations. Recently Verizon has begun to respond to our requests. I have included our letter below and then have included their answers. Please note, not everything has been addressed at this point, but I feel this is a good start.

September 29, 2020
Attn. BPU – Office of Cable Television & Telecommunications
RE: Comments on the Statewide Renewal of Verizon. BPU Docket No. CE20080516

JAG – the Jersey Access Group, the non-profit organization representing local government, educational and public television channels throughout the state of New Jersey would like to submit our comments into the record regarding Verizon’s New Jersey Statewide Franchise renewal.
Local PEG (Public, Education, Government) stations are main source for community communications, news and involvement with our municipal government officials and school boards. These PEG stations provide important information directly to our local residents. This fact couldn’t be more apparent than during the current pandemic. PEG stations throughout the state have had to creatively redefine themselves in order to get vital messages out from their respective municipalities to the general public.
JAG would like the following concerns specific to Verizon franchise renewal to be considered:

HD (High Definition) Television has been around for over 15 years. By 2009, all television networks had switched to this amazing technology, except for PEG. PEG has been denied this technology and kept in the SD (Standard Definition) bottomless pit. The problem is, SD has gone away. Replacement equipment is no longer being made and impossible to obtain. PEG stations already have converted to HD equipment for content creation and play back, but now need to downgrade their signal to a sub-standard level for Verizon.

The Federal Cable Act states that we (PEG facilities) are not to be treated any differently from any other network/cable channel. It is evident in this situation PEG channels are. “So it appears that Verizon is now willing and have started to upgrade some the PEG stations delivery systems. Both Bloomfield and Scotch Plains have had new fiber systems and ONTs constructed at their locations in addition to having Verizon’s Encoders being placed at the stations end. This has allowed both stations to hand-off a digital HD-SDI signal to Verizon Encoder and not a composite, analog feed as in the past. In addition, they have configured their broadcast of this feed to be in a 16:9 format. However, at this point the channel is still not broadcast in HD, this is the first step in getting there. The same encoder newly installed is cable of encoding a HD feed and sending it to Verizon to be broadcast in HD”

To go along with the first point, PEG also has not been allowed to list their programming in the channel guides. In a time where people search programming guides and record programs from information listed in them, PEG channels have been left out. Again, PEG is treated differently. “We are waiting for a response”

Verizon never completed their buildout as originally proposed. Many municipalities are in limbo as to whether it will ever happen. Many smaller communities are still in need of cable competition and high speed internet access as promised by Verizon.
a. There are many communities in which Verizon has started buildout and has yet to complete it. Leaving portions of a municipality’s residents in the dark when it comes to local government communication, especially during a pandemic, when they do not have access to the local PEG channel. “We are waiting for a response”
b. Municipalities are often left to wonder where their local channel broadcasts to, as there is no clearly defined service map showing exactly were each PEG station broadcasts to. “We are waiting for a response”
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c. The lack of complete buildout in a community has left many municipalities and their stations in limbo. Many stations are broadcasting on the Verizon FiOS network, but because cable service has not been completed in their town, they cannot even get service to see their own PEG channel at their facility for oversight and quality control. “We are waiting for a response”

Currently most local government and PEG station managers have no local government contact information within Verizon that they can reach out to in case of an outage, broadcast issues and general questions. We strongly urge the BPU to demand that Verizon provide a local contact and their information to municipalities, PEG Stations and JAG Members.

“Verizon Response Below”
Verizon understands the importance of Public, Education and Government (PEG) programming and the need to address/resolve signal quality and outage issues as quickly as possible. Therefore, it is Verizon’s pleasure to inform you that Verizon’s National Network Management Center (NNMC) is available to PEG Program providers should PEG signal quality or outage issues occur. If you experience signal quality or outage issues with your PEG channel, please follow the instructions below to report the problem.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me. Thank you.
Sincerely,
Tanya Davis
Verizon Fios TV
NY & NJ Franchise Service Manager
111 Main St, 6th Floor
White Plains, NY 10601
(Office) 914-821-9681
(Mobile) 917-612-1614
Tanya.K.Davis@Verizon.com

PEG SIGNAL QUALITY OR OUTAGE ISSUES
The National Network Management Center (NNMC) is staffed with experienced Network Specialists currently working with National Broadcast Providers. The NNMC will provide more efficient and expeditious resolution of PEG signal quality or outage issues. The NNMC is available 24×7 and will immediately initiate PEG Network troubleshooting eliminating the need to call Franchise Service Managers when problems occur. Franchise Service Managers will remain a resource to PEG providers on PEG signal quality and outage issues as necessary.

WHAT PEG PROGRAM PROVIDERS NEED TO DO
Call the NNMC at 1-800-243-6994, Option 4, Option 2
• Identify yourself as a PEG Provider
• Provide the community and channel number(s) affected.
• Provide call back number and access information should a need to dispatch a technician be required.

WHAT THE NNMC WILL DO
• The NNMC will troubleshoot the Verizon Network to determine if the problem is connected with the Verizon Network.
• If necessary, a dispatch to the PEG provider site will be arranged.

PLEASE NOTE:
The NNMC is not responsible for provisioning the PEG monitoring drop. The PEG monitoring drop is a subscriber drop used for viewing PEG channels on the FiOS Network. For information on the PEG monitoring drop you need to call your Franchise Service Manager.”

Verizon has not adequately provided the proper production and post-production equipment (cameras, microphones, edit systems and more) as outlined in the original systemwide franchise agreement. In locations where they began to setup these repositories for equipment and training, municipalities were not notified of them, there is not clear and concise information on how to gain access to them and equipment currently on hand at them is outdated or no longer available.

“Verizon Response Below”
Verizon NJ PEG Training and Equipment Program

In areas where Verizon NJ provides cable television service, and with the assistance of select New Jersey County and Community Colleges (see list below), makes equipment and training programs available to municipal-authorized representatives or residents for use in the development of local programming content that can be shown on local community public, educational or government (“PEG”) access channels, pursuant to N. J.S. A. 48:SA-28(1). NJEdge is the program implementation coordinator for the PEG Training and Equipment Program (or the “Program”).

Through the Program, any municipal-authorized representative or resident can take a free Basic Video Production training course at a participating County or Community College and then be eligible to borrow a complete location video production system to record a community event or program. Once the video shoot is complete, the authorized representative or resident can edit the footage at the participating County or Community College in order to produce a complete video program, ready for broadcast on local PEG channels. An Advanced Video Production training course is also available, once the Basic Training has been successfully completed.

Participating County and Community Colleges are:

Bergen Community College James Quimby – jquimby@bergen.edu
Brookdale Community College Lauren Concar – lconcar@brookdalecc.edu
Essex County College Victoria Timpanaro – vtimpana@essex.edu
Gloucester County EN John Mondelli – jmondelli@gcecnj.org
Mercer County CC Steve Voorhees – voorhees@mccc.edu
Ocean County College Lee Kobus – lkobus@ocean.edu
Union County College Patrick Gallagher – gallagher@ucc.edu,

If you have any questions or need more information Forough Ghahramani at NJEdge at forough.ghahramani@njedge.net, or your local County or Community College.”

As outlined in the Board of Public Utilities Guide to Cable Franchise Renewal, “…is to examine the past performance of the cable operator and identify the future cable-related needs of the community.” We are not advocating that Verizon be refused their franchise renewal; rather, JAG respectfully requests that Verizon be held accountable to their original agreements and keep up with current technology and trends such as High Definition Broadcast of PEG channel. We believe this inequity should be rectified.

Thank you for this opportunity to comment.
Bob Duthaler
President, Jersey Access Group
President, NJ NATOA
Member, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (EMMYS)

President’s Message Jan. 2021

2020 Ends and 2021 Begins …. What Changes?

Everyone was waiting for the clock to strike midnight and 2020 to come to
an end. This past year was full of turmoil, uncertainty, insecurity, grief and
sorrow. We saw job loss, sickness and people pushed to the edge both
mentally and politically. I do not need to dwell on the year past and all its
problems as well as having lived through it. What I do want to talk about is how JAG stepped up as an organization this year and recap some of the great things we accomplished. I will point out however, my remarks will be
brief and highlight some of the accomplishments of the different  committees. In the past newsletter you can read each committee’s year-end report in more detail.

The External Relations Committee has kept busy throughout this pandemic. They have provided enhancements to the JAG website, social media outlets and informational articles about our members in the newsletters. We have had new organizational members along with current members present at our JAG meetings and have made these presentations available to watch in a special member’s only section of the JAG website. The committee will continue to grow these features in this new year.

The Finance Committee has been keeping on top of the JAG budget, monitoring our expenses, finding ways to cut back and keep the organization solvent. The year 2020 was a year without a JAG Conference, which is an income source for the organization.  Fortunately, there were other areas of expense that we reduced or eliminated including attending the national NATOA conference and having a booth at the NJ League of
Municipalities – both of which are some of our major expenses.

The Production Committee started off 2020 very strong, finishing a series of videos for the NJ League of Municipalities. If you have not had a chance to see them, please visit the member’s only section of the JAG website to view them, you will not be disappointed. The committee has also been working with External Relations on releasing a series of JAG videos and testimonials. Look for a new YouTube Channel and other great things in 2021.

The Conference Committee: Since there was no conference in 2020, the
conference committee was disbanded. An exploratory committee was created late in the year and has recommended that the JAG Executive Board create a new committee. This will be brought up at the annual re-organization meeting. If there is a conference it will be virtual with a lot of exciting new sessions for members along with a trade show element.

The Legislative Committee also started off very promising with bills in the House and Senate supporting PEG Stations, but par for 2020, they were derailed when COVID-19 hit. However, this did not keep the committee from reaching out and having conversations with our legislators, getting some to sign on to the bills and keeping an open dialogue with them. In addition, JAG weighed in on the Verizon re-franchise in New Jersey. You can read more about that in another one of my articles in this newsletter.

The Membership Committee is focusing in on you and your needs. They continue to evaluate what our members are looking for, discussing with the various committees and the board to let them know. In addition, we have expanded membership and are reaching out to non-profits with interests in common with JAG. If you have not recently heard from the membership committee, please answer their call as they conduct a survey to evaluate our membership needs.

The JAG Awards are coming, the JAG Awards are coming!! The committee was hard at work in 2020 and are now working on reinventing the awards and providing an additional benefit to the members. Be on the lookout for the official announcement in next month’s newsletter. The first entry will be at no charge – compliments of JAG! Get your best work together from 2020!

Leadership Development is JAG’s newest committee and are charged with a lot. They are responsible for helping create the material that will help this organization, including Welcome Letters, Marketing Materials and other “Tools” that the various committees will use. This committee is comprised of members from each of JAG’s other committees.

As you can see, JAG persevered through 2020 and is in good shape for 2021. The Board of Trustees set some goals at its 2020 retreat which will be discussed further during the annual Reorganization Meeting on Wednesday, January 13th. Our main focus is and will remain our members, for you are the strength of our organization. We will continue to find better ways to serve you via social media, website enhancements, webinars, social hangouts and more. The organization will continue to provide educational opportunities to its members through various sources including presentations and our annual conference. We continue to partner with state organizations like the NJ League of Municipalities and national organizations such as the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors and The Alliance for Community Media to keep on top of legislation and changes in political climate. The JAG Executive Board will work together with the idea of supporting our membership, providing them the tools necessary to succeed and much more.

Finally, as I mention each month in my article, JAG as an organization is a very social group. Face to face interaction at this point continues to not be possible but there are work arounds. I encourage you to take part in these events, webinars, monthly virtual meetings, impromptu online gatherings and perhaps an online happy hour! Stay Home, Stay Safe and make the most of this time with your family and loved ones.

Bob Duthaler

President, Jersey Access Group