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MIT Cable Reviewed With Student Surveys Group Formed to Investigate Viewing Needs

By Apoorva Murarka

In response to requests from members of the student body regarding recent proposed changes to the MIT Cable channel lineup, an interest group named Cable-storm was formed in late spring with the aim of improving programming on the MIT Cable service, Cable-storm member Natalija Z. Jovanovic G said.

Cable-storm is comprised of representatives from the Undergraduate Association, Graduate Student Council, Dormitory Council, MIT Cable Television, and Housing, said Jovanovic.

The current proposal is to drop a few analog channels and add new ones in their place. A new survey opened late in the summer and will continue to run through Sept. 30, Jovanovic said. The survey offers a choice of channels that can possibly be replaced and channels that the students may want included in the new lineup. This survey is being managed by both the UA and the GSC, and it is being hosted by the Sidney–Pacific graduate community, said Gerald E. Dalley G, GSC Housing and Community Affairs Committee co-chair.

Natalija Jovanovic said that the survey has received “a very good response from both the graduate and the undergraduate students.”

“Cable-storm is looking for more responses so as to establish the survey results more firmly,” Jovanovic said. All students are encouraged to participate in the survey.

ESPN and Comedy Central are probably the top undergraduate choices to join the MIT Cable lineup, said UA Vice President Ruth Miller. She also added that news channels offered in the current service will likely stay.

Since graduate students have already signed their housing contracts, it is unlikely that the cable changes will be implemented this year, said UA President Andrew T. Lukmann ’07.

“Only the channels for which the funding comes through Housing are currently eligible for replacement,” Jovanovic said.

“In the housing contract there is no list of channels, so there is some ambiguity and it could be used to argue for the change this year. However, the GSC will not push for any changes this year unless there is a very broad and very strong push from the graduate student body,” Dalley said.

MIT Cable TV cannot implement any changes until the survey results are in and all the legalities have been sorted out. Once the results are in, changes could be implemented within a month, according to Randall W. Winchester, team leader of MIT Cable Television.

In May this year, a call for feedback on cable options was sent by Miller to the undergraduate student body via e-mail regarding changes in channel programming and subscription fee billing options. Students were given the choice between either keeping their current programming or getting new digital channels at an increased cost. Due to bandwidth concerns, 10 analog channels would also be removed to allow for 100 additional digital channels.

The cost of the new channels was put at $35 a month, per outlet, with premium channels being available for an additional $15 per month, per outlet, according to the e-mail to undergraduates. Since the new service would involve transmission of channels digitally, most televisions would require a digital converter that would cost around $70.

Two options were considered for billing the subscription fee. Either the Housing office would handle the account, and the subscription cost would be absorbed into the price of on-campus housing, or the students would be allowed to handle their own subscriptions. Either way, students would still have to find digital converters. In addition, students that decided not to subscribe would have to purchase a digital converter in order to access the current MIT Cable programming, minus the 10 channels that would be removed.

A survey of the student population was carried out in May this year. An overwhelming 72 percent of the graduate students who participated in the survey preferred keeping the existing channels instead of the proposed $35 subscription service, said Dalley. Conversely, 73 percent of the undergraduate students preferred the subscription service to the current programming, Miller said.

This comes in stark contrast to 2003, when the bankruptcy of the country’s only supplier of digital channels, WSNet, left graduate students without an option for digital cable even though they were will to pay the monthly $25 subscription fee, as previouisly reported in The Tech.

The polarity between graduate and undergraduate student opinions meant that changes to the cable service could be stalled. Nonetheless, “the student organizations chose to search for another alternative that would have minimal costs, but allow for a small number of channels to change,” according to Dalley.

Undergraduate students were interested in only a few select channels, Miller said, and a compromise that involved dropping the $35 subscription service option from the proposed changes was reached. The subscription service option may be considered again in the future.

“We haven’t given up yet and we are still looking for a more feasible solution,” Miller said.

For more information on the MIT Cable Survey, visit https://s-p.mit.edu/officers/surveys/MIT_Cable2.php.

Ricardo Ramirez contributed to the reporting of this article.