October 8, 2009
Public, Educational, Governmental Channels Need Support
Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin has introduced the Community Access Preservation (CAP) Act of 2009 (H.R. 3745) to address the challenges faced by public, educational, and governmental (PEG) TV channels and community access television stations.
Historically, the funding for and broadcast of PEG channels have been negotiated as part of local franchise agreements between cable companies and local franchise authorities. However, twenty-three states have enacted new telecommunication laws that establish state-level franchise authorities. As a result of these recent state-wide agreements and a lack of adequate federal protection, some PEG channels now face significant broadcast and funding obstacles.
“Local access channels bring unique voices, perspectives, and programming to television,” said Congresswoman Baldwin. “The nature of television programming is changing, as are the methods in which that programming is delivered. These changes should not come at the expense of the diversity and vibrancy of local voices,” Baldwin said.
PEG channels connect residents with their local government in much the same way C-SPAN connects people to activities in Congress. Local school districts operate channels to feature school board meetings and forums, interviews, lectures, and sporting events not otherwise broadcast on television. Additionally, communities adopt various genres of PEG programming to reflect local interests. According to a survey conducted by National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, religious shows represent 20-40% of local access programming.
PEG stations and channels are locally funded, produced, and viewed and current federal law and a number of state laws are silent as to the basic requirements for PEG broadcasts or do not require dedicated funding beyond an “adequate assurance of financial support.” Some franchised cable operators carry PEG channels differently than commercial channels, broadcasting them in reduced resolution, displaying them in menu-format, or simply moving them to a digital-only tier where they are inaccessible to analog cable customers. In some cases, customers must now pay extra fees in order to receive PEG channels. In other cases, operators are refusing to pass through PEG closed captioning unless a special request is made. This treatment undervalues PEG channels and their viewers.
The Community Access Preservation (CAP) Act would address the immediate issues facing PEG channels by:
- Allowing PEG fees to be used for any PEG-related purposes;
- Requiring PEG channels to be carried in the same manner as local broadcast channels;
- Requiring the FCC to study the effect state video franchise laws have had on PEG channels, and requiring operators to provide the greater of the support required under state laws, or the support historically provided for PEG; and
- Making cable television-related laws and regulations applicable to all landline video providers.
“Decisions at the state and federal level have combined to create a crisis for PEG. With the CAP Act, Rep. Baldwin effectively addresses the most immediate problems and opens the door to the future by preserving support for PEG while the FCC conducts its study. This bill is critical to us. Wisconsin’s rich community access heritage is on the line,” said Mary Cardona, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Association of PEG Channels.
“Community Media has a four decade history of connecting communities with their governments, schools, churches, friends and neighbors. The future existence of community media is being threatened against the intent of Congress for localism and diversity of voices in media. With the CAP Act, Rep. Baldwin addresses immediate needs to preserve and protect the important role PEG channels play in advancing democratic ideals through community uses of media,” said Matt Schuster, Chair, Alliance for Community Media.
The Community Access Preservation (CAP) Act does not assume a “one size fits all” PEG structure, instead leaving the decision to negotiate for PEG channels to franchising authorities and the local communities they represent.
Baldwin’s legislation is supported by the Alliance for Community Media (ACM) and the National Association of Telecommunication Officers and Advisors (NATOA).