Baldwin introduces legislation to protect Community Access TV

Alliance for Community Media:

The Alliance for Community Media applauds Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin for introducing the Community Access Preservation (CAP) Act of 2009 (PDF) to address the challenges faced by public, education, and government (PEG) TV channels and community access television stations.

Nationwide, many community access television stations have been forced to shut down or severely limit their operations as a result of a combination of state law changes and FCC decisions, which cable television operators are claiming permit them to eliminate funding and important in-kind support they have traditionally provided to local community access television channels.

In addition, several video providers have begun to carry PEG channels differently than commercial channels, broadcasting them in reduced resolution and in a way that makes it impossible for subscribers to select or record them like other channels. In some cases, customers must now pay extra fees in order to receive PEG channels, which were intended by Congress to be available to everyone in the community. 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. "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. "Our office has asked the FCC to address some of these issues immediately. However, while we continue to urge the FCC to act, the FCC cannot address all the immediate problems, and it is important for Congress to do so."

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 reach the community with school board meetings and forums, interviews, lectures, and sporting events not otherwise seen on television. Additionally, community public access stations provide a place where residents can learn video production, check out equipment, and create their own programs. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, religious programming represents 20-40% of the content appearing on local PEG channels.

While the mistreatment of PEG is being challenged in the courts and the FCC, many communities and PEG stations are not in a position to protect their interests effectively.

The Community Access Preservation (CAP) Act addresses four immediate issues facing PEG (summary). The CAP Act would:

Allow PEG fees to be used for any PEG-related purpose
Require PEG channels to be carried in the same manner as local broadcast channels
Require the FCC to study the effect state video franchise laws have had on PEG, and require operators in states that adopted statewide franchising to provide support equal to the greater of the support required under the state law, or the support historically provided for PEG, and
Make 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.

Baldwin's legislation is supported by the Alliance for Community Media and the National Association of Telecommunication Officers and Advisors.

article originally published at Alliance for Community Media.

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