Community media supporters stand up for public access

Alliance for Community Media:

Alliance for Community Media members and supporters from 36 states responded in force to the FCC's request for comments regarding the Petitions for Declaratory Ruling filed in January, 2009. Over 700 responses came from a wide variety of sources, including local community organizations, media reform organizations, non-profit associations, city governments, and individuals.

"The strength, variety and volume of the comments show that communities across this nation value their local public, government and education channels and community media centers, and that the quality and availability of these services matter," stated ACM board chair Matt Schuster.

The FCC requested the comments and replies in response to a Petition for Declaratory Ruling, filed by the Alliance and 14 other organizations, as well as similar petitions filed by the City of Dearborn and other Michigan municipalities and by the City of Lansing, Michigan. The Alliance petition outlines discriminatory delivery and treatment of PEG channels by AT&T's U-verse system and seeks relief from these practices, which are contrary to federal law and FCC rules. The Dearborn petition deals with practices by Comcast which adversely affect the availability of the local public, education and government channels.

Erik Mollberg, chair of the Alliance's Indiana Chapter, summed up the issues in saying, "PEG access is required by law to be treated the same in quality, placement, accessibility and functionality as local broadcast channels on cable systems. It is very important that the provisions of the law be upheld and enforced, to preserve Congress' intent of preserving localism, diversity and free speech."

Michael White, General Manager of Bloomington Indiana's public access channel, CATS, outlined the damage: "Specifically, the PEG portion of the U-verse is only offered in degraded resolution and without the capability for closed captioning."

Other comments describe the value of PEG centers and channels in local communities. For example, in Troy, Michigan, the Community Media Network trains the developmentally disabled to use video production equipment, and to produce programming themselves. CMN's Executive Director Jay Wiencko said, "This is a great success story that should not be shamefully 'hidden' on some arbitrary channel number that would be totally obscured by hundreds of other commercial channels. Individuals, nonprofits, elected officials, houses of worship, schools, and civil service agencies have benefited broadly from our efforts to provide affordable programming that informs our constituent viewers, and in turn, enhances many lives."

Providing SAP services for the visually impaired or for foreign language programs is another problem for U-Verse. Access Tucson's program, Sun Sounds, which carries SAP on one channel to provide reading services for the visually impaired, would not be available through the U-Verse system. The Triangle Radio Reading Service in Raleigh, North Carolina points out that the elderly, blind, visually or otherwise print impaired cannot operate a totally visual menu. In order for them to access local PEG channels, they need to be available in the same manner as commercial channels.

Stephen Ranieri, Executive Director of Quote Unquote, the Albuquerque, New Mexico public access center, states these practices are "in direct contradiction to the stated goals of the Commission to encourage more localism and diversity in media content. With the recent trends in media these goals are more important than ever and the PEG channels are becoming more essential to the attainment of this goal than ever before."

In supporting the petitions, Jon Bartholomew of Common Cause stated, "These petitions will stop the harmful acts by AT&T, Comcast and others to make these channels hard to find, hard to tune, impossible to record on DVR, impossible to reach by channel surfing, impossible to add closed captioning or a second language, on-channel guides, and too expensive when placed on costly digital tiers."

The Alliance wants to thank all of its supporters and members who took their valuable time to make their voices heard on these important issues. The record is clear: community media matters and the law should be enforced.

The Petitions and links to the comments/replies can be found at AllianceCM.org

article originally published at Alliance for Community Media.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey