Cape Cod Times Posted Dec 8, 2018 at 3:01 AM
If you have ever found yourself traipsing through the television stations, looking for something – anything – worth watching, you may have inadvertently or even purposely run across a local cable access station broadcasting anything from town committee meetings to small town festivals and public service announcements.
Although often teased about their low viewership, public access stations have served and continue to serve a valuable function, providing a forum where town officials and ordinary residents can give voice to issues of importance. Now the funding mechanism that allows these stations to operate is at risk.
Under the existing rules, cable companies pay a franchise fee for the privilege of being able to sell their services in a particular geographical area. Local communities can then use those funds for any purpose they deem acceptable, with many channeling that money into public access stations. This cash helps underwrite staffing, equipment and training costs for public, educational and government (PEG) stations. Locally, this includes the Cape Cod Community Media Center, Nantucket Community Television and Martha’s Vineyard Community Television.
Under rule changes proposed by the Federal Communications Commission, however, cable providers would be able to count the value of the PEG stations themselves toward the fee they pay to local communities. In short, this would mean a lot less cash heading toward towns.
According to public access station advocates, this would leave communities in a bind: they would either have to allocate more local funding to keep the stations operational or face the prospect that the programming offerings would be severely curtailed. In some cases, stations may be forced to shut down altogether.
The Internet and Television Association, a trade association representing cable and broadcast television entities, argues that the current system has imposed an “unnecessary burden” on cable providers and is slowing the rollout of broadband access. They go on to argue that the proposed restructuring would help counter these issues.
Although cable operators would understandably like to see some or all of the franchise fees they currently pay end up back in their collective pockets, it seems more than a little disingenuous to suggest that the five percent fee represents a severe financial burden. Consider Comcast as an example. On Cape Cod, the communications giant has secured the franchise rights in many towns. However, the idea that the company is pinching its pennies seems at best laughable. This corporate behemoth owns everything from NBC to Focus Features and Universal Studios, and provides cable access to more than 22 million Americans, making it the second-largest cable provider in the United States.
Some have argued that cable companies must remain lean and competitive, but the truth is that for most of us, there is basically no competition once a company owns the franchise rights to a specific community. In most towns, if you want broadband access to television or the Internet, your options are basically limited to Comcast or nothing; Verizon’s FIOS does not offer service anywhere on the Cape, and for the overwhelming majority of individuals, the prospect of tying into OpenCape’s fiber optic network remains a tantalizing dream.
State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, warned that, as proposed, the regulations seem “like nothing more than a giveaway by the FCC to profitable and large companies, many of whom have a monopoly in the marketplace.” If passed, he said, it “would cripple cable access stations across the U.S.”
Others warn that the move would hamper free speech, and some local officials have echoed these concerns, noting that dozens of town boards and committees use public access stations to share their meetings. This allows both full- and part-time residents to keep tabs on local government. In addition, PEG stations provide unique opportunities for area residents; everyone from senior citizens to teenagers can receive training on being on-air talent, or filming, editing or producing a television program.
Preserving such coverage and opportunities seems particularly important at a time where online content is replacing virtually every other source of news and entertainment. In addition, we agree with Cyr that the FCC stands poised on the precipice of a massive corporate giveaway. If the public is to retain its access to public access, it must speak up. Individuals have until December 14th to make their voices heard, and can do so by visiting the FCC website at www.fcc.gov or by writing directly to the commission. This is a case where it is crucial that residents exercise their right to free speech so as to preserve it.
Please download a copy this letter to email to the FCC. Detailed instructions below:
- Download this document, edit with your own words, type your name and address. Plain text Doc: Letter to FCC PDF: Letter to FCC
- Then upload it as a pdf to this link:
- On this page type in 05-311 in the first field to select the correct objective. Visual below.
- Choose comment and fill in the rest of the fields (skip the legal identifier fields).
- Please share with everyone you know and urge them to do the same!
Thank you for filing your comments. For an extra nudge, below are the Federal Communications Commission leaders
Emails should be submit by December 13, 2018
Ajit Pai, Chairman
Michael O’Rielly, Commissioner
Brendan Carr, Commissioner
Jessica Rosenworcel, Commissioner