SEABROOK – The Greenbelt City Council put forward two pieces of legislation during its Oct. 15 meeting to improve and further maintain its communications services to the city.
The council voted to move forward on renewing its franchise agreement with Verizon, which provides the city its cable broadcasting. The deal includes adding closed captioning for Greenbelt’s city council meetings.
The council quickly addressed the looming deadline to renew the franchise agreement between Greenbelt and Verizon Maryland LLC. On May 23, Verizon sent the city a letter with a request to commence franchise renewal proceedings, as is required three years in advance of expiration by the Communications Act of 1934. Adrian Copiz, assistant general counsel of Verizon Maryland, cited the act’s authorization of “good faith, informal negotiations,” and recommended that the city and the company go through proceedings “on an informal basis.” The city is also expected to work in conjunction with the county and other municipalities as they go through similar negotiations with Verizon.
The city did not respond until June 24, after Verizon sent a second letter three days before.
According to the Federal Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, the city cannot collect certain information regarding the process of renewal or invite public comment without a resolution. Seeing that, the council moved to consider the resolution for adoption on Oct. 28.
Councilmember Colin Byrd also noted how the sign language company, Municipal Captioning, Inc., agreed to stay for the meeting for three hours to discuss legislation that would use its services to include closed captioning into its municipal broadcasting.
The resolution to include closed captioning came after the city experienced growing difficulty and cost of hiring sign language interpreters to cover council meetings. The high costs caused the city to approve a 2020 budget that did not consider the cost of sign language interpretation off-site of the Municipal Building, the location for most city council meetings.
Byrd said that closed captioning would help meet the needs of a broader range of people.
The resolution was initially brought to the council on Aug. 12, after city staff consulted with three vendors that provided closed captioning, recommending Municipal Captioning for its low costs. Staff also cited that Municipal Captioning already serves the City of Laurel. The council approved a one-year trial of closed captioning, citing concerns that its voice recognition software might be unreliable.
Municipal Captioning provided a quote to the city council for a contract that would provide captioning for approximately five hours a day, 30 hours a month, for an estimated $13,000.
But as Beverly Palau, the city’s public information and communications coordinator, moved forward with the process, the city’s current signers sought to double the city’s costs for its interpreting services. Turning to Municipal Captioning became crucial, but it would take the company a couple of months to set up the system.
“I felt that I needed to act quickly as to provide the City with an affordable solution,” Palau wrote in a memo.
The resolution was expected to be approved during the council’s Sept. 23 meeting, but it was postponed to Oct. 15 to collect further information due to the confusion of cost and ability. Palau answered questions and concerns raised during that meeting, especially assuring that “the system is installed and functioning.”
Palau has also been working directly with the system, entering key vocabulary words to help improve its function once it is officially set up.
The city council felt that Palau had answered the questions from the Sept. 23 meeting, and moved to adopt the resolution.