062318 Flower parade 52.jpg (copy)

City of Lompoc employees Gregg Ratliff and Samantha Scroggin broadcast the 2018 Lompoc Flower Festival parade on Tap TV in this June 23, 2018, file photo. This month, the Lompoc City Council approved the allocation of $60,000 to upgrade the city's cable access equipment.

For the first time in 12 years, the city of Lompoc is due for a significant upgrade to its cable access service.

The Lompoc City Council this month approved using $60,000 from the city’s general fund to purchase new equipment for the Lompoc Media Center that is expected to allow for improved and expanded offerings on TAP TV, the city’s cable access network. The City Council unanimously supported the allocation at its Aug. 18 meeting.

The move was especially welcomed by Greg Ratcliff, the PEG (Public, Education and Government) station manager for the city. In a brief presentation to the governing body, Ratcliff noted that he had overseen a “slow cascade of death” among the equipment utilized by the operation, and he did not sugarcoat the need for upgrades.

“I’ve tried to put this thing together with bubblegum and paper clips for as long as I can,” he said. “We’re to the point now that I can’t fix it that way any longer. The status of the system now is just highlighting the fact that we need to replace it entirely.”

With the funding approved, it is expected that the upgrades will be completed within the next three to four months, Ratcliff said. Under the terms of the City Council’s approval, city staff will need to return with a report on the new equipment after it is installed, as well as a cost breakdown.

Ratcliff noted that the $60,000 cost estimate was based on how much the city of Santa Maria spent last year to upgrade its system with essentially the same equipment that Lompoc is looking to purchase. Because Lompoc doesn’t necessarily need some of the exact components that Santa Maria did, Ratcliff said Lompoc could end up spending a little less.

Any money that is left over after the upgrades would be automatically returned to the general fund, according to city staff.

Currently, the city of Lompoc operates three Comcast cable channels, with Channel 23 reserved for City Council and other local government or education programming, and Channels 24 and 25 available for public access programming.

Because of failing equipment, however, broadcasts are limited at this time to City Council meetings and bulletin boards with text.

The upgrades have been a long time coming, Ratcliff said.

The cities of Lompoc and Santa Maria initially took joint control over PEG operations from Comcast in their respective communities in 2003. Although the cities were working together, all of the equipment was kept in a facility in Santa Maria.

Five years later, the cities assumed independent operations, which required Lompoc to purchase its own equipment. The city hasn’t bought new equipment for the station since then.

Much of the surviving equipment that was purchased in 2008 has been running nonstop since. Currently, on the station’s equipment rack, eight of 23 components are either already dead or considered obsolete. Three of the main functional components are refurbished or were repurposed after no longer being needed in other city departments.

Compounding the issue of failing and outdated tech, Ratcliff noted that support for the equipment is also nonexistent at this point. He said he hasn’t been able to get in touch with a specific vendor’s support representative since December 2019 and jokingly suggested that person may have “dropped off the edge” of the planet.

“So we not only have a rack of equipment that is obsolete, outdated and broken, we also have no tech support to back it up,” he said.

Along with needing the new equipment to resume a more robust cable access offering, the changes will also mean the city can convert its analog signal to a digital one, something that needed to be done this year for the channels to continue being broadcast in the future through Comcast.

Mayor Jenelle Osborne said she considered the upgrades to be particularly critical with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to limit people's access to public meetings.

Even now, people using Apple devices are unable to access City Council meetings online due to the city’s incompatible signal. Osborne said she felt that alone was likely limiting many people from engaging with their local government.

“The fact that the public has been unable to participate in our meetings, delivering them over our public broadcasting is really important,” she said.

Along with the TV channels, the city of Lompoc also operates the KPEG 100.9 FM radio station.

The next regular meeting of the Lompoc City Council is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 1.

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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Reporter

Willis Jacobson covers news and other issues, primarily those that affect the Lompoc Valley and Vandenberg Air Force Base for the Lompoc Record. He is a graduate of The University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.