History of Cable Television Contract at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

History of Cable Television Contract at the University of Wisconsin-Madison


David Devereaux-Weber

This is a draft. Please send comments and corrections to me using comment space below.

In 1994 UW Housing approached the Madison Academic Computing Center (MACC) (which later became the Division of Information Technology (DoIT)) about cable television in UW Housing. At this time, the dorms had cable television in "dens" - lounges in the dorms. The cabling and amplifiers were installed and maintained by the local cable company (TCI at the time).

Eagle Heights and University Houses residents could elect to individually subscribe to cable TV. The cabling and amplifiers were installed and maintained by the local cable company.

At that time, there was an existing campus cable television network called the Broadband Network. The Broadband Network was installed in 1981 for the purpose of connecting computer terminals in faculty offices to a Univac 1108 computer in the Computer Sciences and Statistics Center. This network was installed in both academic and residential buildings. At that time, no television channels were carried on this system. About 1982, Chipcom cable modems were added to the Broadband Network so it could serve as the first UW Madison campus Internet backbone.

Cable television companies usually employ a sub-split frequency design, which allocates more bandwidth in the downstream direction than in the upstream direction. The Broadband Network had about the same amount of bandwidth in both directions. In cable television parlance, this was known as a high split design. This limited the number of television channels that could be carried, and made the Broadband less-desirable for this new service.

UW Housing wanted to have the quantity of channels and channel selection of the current local cable television company, and since the Broadband Network was not able to carry sufficient channels, we concluded that a new cable television network was needed.

At the time we started planning a new network, the Broadband was renamed the Academic Television Network (ATN) to differentiate the two networks. The new network would be called the Residential Television Network (RTN).

The people involved were myself (David Devereaux-Weber), Tad Pinkerton (Director of DoIT), Marv Bjornstad (UW Purchasing), Steve Siehr (Chancellor's office), and Norm Sunstad and Paul Evans (UW Housing).

In 1994, the Federal Communications Commission rules prohibited "cross-ownership" of, among other things, cable television and broadcast television. The broadcast license of WHA-TV is held by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin. Even though a case could be made that cross-ownership rules did not apply to non-commercial broadcast licenses, the Washington Counsel of the UW (Dow, Lohnes and Albertson) recommended that, to be safe, we could not "own" a cable system.

As a result, we examined the FCC rules exploring the definition of a cable system. We found three requirements for a cable television system:

  1. System carries Class 1 channels (over-the-air broadcast channels)
  2. Crosses public rights-of-way
  3. Has customers

We concluded that cable television service to the dorms would meet all three of those requirements, and therefore that we needed to obtain cable television service from an outside company.

Our approach was to break the project up into a cabling project in the dorms, a campus distribution network and a signal source.

For the cabling project, the plan was to install new voice, data and television cabling in the dorms. This included all UW Housing except Eagle Heights, University Houses and Harvey St. Apartments.

For our first attempt, we applied for a bid waiver. This would have allowed us to negotiate a contract with locally-franchised cable television operator TCI Cable of Wisconsin. This application was approved by UW-Madison Purchasing, and then approved by the State Bureau of Procurement and forwarded to Governor Tommy Thompson. The application was returned unsigned by Governor Thompson - kind of like a pocket veto.

For our second attempt, we worked to write a bid specification. We didn't know why the bid waiver request was returned unsigned, so we wrote a bid specification that would permit responses from a cable company (like TCI), a wireless cable company (like Sky Cable) or satellite providers.

The Low Bid was from Star Cable of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Star Cable called the Madison project Cyberstar. The second lowest bid was from TCI Cable of Wisconsin, and the High Bid was from Campus Televideo of Connecticut.

Star found out about the bid from my discussing the situation at the monthly meetings of the Wisconsin Chapter of the Society of Cable Television Engineers (SCTE), which were held in Fond du Lac. It also turned out that Don Jones, president of Star Cable was a friend of Governor Tommy Thompson, which perhaps explained how the Governor came to pocket veto the Bid Waiver request.

Interestingly, Cyberstar President Don Jones also worked a day a week in the office of US House Speaker Newt Gingrich assisting in the drafting of what became the Communications Act of 1996. Part of that act reduces restrictions on cable television and broadcast cross-ownership. The new rules likely permit UW to own both WHA-TV license and operate cable television entity. This meant that the initial regulatory conditions that led us to bidding cable television out and the selection of Star Cable as our supplier were changed in part by the actions of the president of Star Cable.

In 1995, Cyberstar encountered difficulties. Cyberstar had hoped to obtain a cable television franchise from the City of Madison. The process was more complex than Cyberstar had predicted. It is possible that Cyberstar had tried to enter the telephone over cable TV market in Madison partnering with AT&T, but when AT&T purchased Craig McCaw's cellular telephone business, that option seemed to evaporate. In addition, Star Cable owned a cable system on St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands. Hurricane Marilyn hit St. Thomas hard in September 1995, devastating the island and the cable television company. Because of the likelihood of hurricanes, the cable company was not able to obtain insurance. It was a large loss for Star.

Cyberstar asked me how to get out of obligation for remaining two years of contract. I suggest donating the satellite antennas, headend and fiber optic backbone to UW. Cyberstar made the offer to UW Purchasing, and UW purchasing accepted.

DoIT considered, then, because the potential cost of programming from TCI was lower than the potential cost of the UW purchasing the programming itself, rejected operating the cable system itself.

UW Purchasing consulted with DoIT and asked second-lowest bidder TCI if they were interested in picking up the remaining two years of the contract. If not, UW Purchasing told TCI that the UW would likely re-bid the contract. TCI, apparently not willing to loose the contract to another competitor, offered to pick up the remaining two years of the contract on Star Cable's terms. That is the basis for the current form of the cable television contract. This contract has been extended several times.

TCI Cable of Wisconsin became Bresnan Communications, which then became Charter Communications.

Rather than operate the former Cyberstar headend in room 8350 of the Computer Sciences and Statistics Center (CSSC) at 1210 W. Dayton St., Charter provides the signals from their Fitchburg headend over fiber optic cable. The fiber optic receiver is located in 8350 CSSC.

Academic Network End of Life

On October 1, 2001, DoIT ended support for the Academic Television Network. Here's the announcement email:

Date: Mon, 01 Oct 2001 10:56:19 -0500
To: Campus-Video@lists.services.wisc.edu
From: David Devereaux-Weber <dave@cable.doit.wisc.edu>
Subject: Academic Television Network (ATN) End-of-Life

The Academic Television Network (ATN), formerly known as the broadband or the broadband communications system (BCS) has come to the end of its life.  Equipment has failed in several locations, and DoIT has no more spare equipment.  This problem is exacerbated by the facts that this particular cable television equipment is no longer manufactured.  There are no plans to rebuild this network.

One failure has occurred on the 300 trunk, near the corner of Brooks and Dayton streets.  Other failures affect the 100 trunk west of Babcock Drive, and the 200 trunk on Langdon Street.

The Residential Television Network (RTN) is a newer cable television system on campus.  It carries the Charter extended basic channels.  For more information on connecting to the RTN, contact Robert Lee of DoIT Network Services (Robert Lee <robert.lee@doit.wisc.edu>).  [Robert Lee is no longer employed at DoIT.]

DoIT has no plans to remove ATN equipment from buildings, wiring closets, manholes or ducts.  We recommend that video jacks and wiring be left in place, and that ATN cabling be left in place, because the cable could be used for connection to the RTN.  Please check with DoIT Network Services before making any changes to RTN wiring or equipment in communications closets.

Te ATN was originally built in 1981 to carry serial data communications for terminals connected to the Univac 1108 computer.  Sytek built the modems, and the product was called Localnet.  Later, 10 MBPS Chipcom cablemodems were added.  These were used for the first UW-Madison campus Internet backbone.  At that time, I helped to design the BCS as a consultant to the Madison Area Computing Center.  Over the life of the BCS, many MACC and DoIT people worked on the system, including Pat Dugan, Mike Egan, Dennis Nichols, Mike Dorl, Rusty Smith and others.


Beginning of Digital Academic Television Network

On March 3, 2004, DoIT announced the Digital Academic Television Network (DATN). DATN is a digital version of the Academic Television Network (ATN). DATN took the eleven channels that were formerly on the ATN and distributed them over the Twenty-First Century Network - the new campus Internet network. The channels are played on computers running Windows or Apple OS X using Quicktime Player, a free player.

The contractual basis for DATN was an amendment to the cable television contract between Charter and the UW. See correspondence below:

From: "Cathy D. Riley" <cathy.riley@doit.wisc.edu>
To: "DAVID J DEVEREAUX-WEBER" <djdevere@doit.wisc.edu>,
   "PERRY L BRUNELLI" <brunelli@doit.wisc.edu>
Subject: FW: Question on the University of Wisconsin Cable Television Contract
Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2002 14:03:52 -0600
Perry and Dave,

Here is the response that I received from Jeff Nate at Charter. He and I had
several discussions on this. Their biggest concern was that people that were
outside of their area would have access to this broadcast (for example a
professor with a laptop visiting Green Bay). I assured him that it would be
restricted to campus machines (via IP address at this point, unless you have
a better solution). So we are now in the position to move forward and put
some real plans in place to get this up and running.

If you have any questions or want any further information, just let me know.


-----Original Message-----
From: Nate, Jeff [mailto:JNate@chartercom.com]
Sent: Monday, February 18, 2002 3:20 PM
To: 'Cathy D. Riley'
Subject: RE: Question on the University of Wisconsin Cable Television


I just received word that this is not a problem as long as the distribution
of the Academic Network is secured to the UW campus only, just as it is
right now.

Jeff D. Nate
Commercial Sales Manager
Charter Communications
5618 Odana Rd.  Suite #150
Madison, WI  53719
PH. (608) 288-6846
Fax (608) 274-1436

-----Original Message-----
From: Cathy D. Riley [mailto:cathy.riley@doit.wisc.edu]
Sent: Tuesday, February 05, 2002 1:25 PM
To: jnate@chartercom.com
Subject: Question on the University of Wisconsin Cable Television


As we discussed over the phone, my question pertains to Exhibit D and the
Academic Television Network. According to the contract Charter will supply
the channels to DoIT, who will then distribute signal to the appropriate
rooms on campus. When this contract was put in place there was an analog
network that DoIT was using for this distribution. Now this analog network
is failing and cannot be repaired. We would like to be able to distribute
the channels over the DoIT Campus network using the various Streaming
Technologies. We could make this a secure environment and would be
distributing the signal live as we receive it, just as in the past, we would
just be using a different method of distribution. It was not clear to me in
the contract if this would be ok, so I wanted to verify with Charter that we
were within our contractual limitations.

Thanks so much for your help,


Cathy Riley
Technical Consultant
UW Madison, Division of Information Technology
Media and Communications Technology
1210 W Dayton Street, 4231

Cable Television Contract

The cable television contract itself is not online. The UW-Madison Purchasing reference to the contract is 95-5254.

Keywords:Cable Television Contract Charter TCI DATN Residential Television Network RTN   Doc ID:12165
Owner:Shawn T.Group:Network Services
Created:2009-09-15 19:00 CDTUpdated:2016-03-31 17:25 CDT
Sites:Network Services
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