Multimedia Campaign for Public Access TV

Talk Show, E-Mail, & OpEd Article as Part of Successful Nationwide Effort

In 2005, Don Repella, Executive Director of the Pasadena Community Access Corporation — on whose public access Channel 56 Barry Gordon produced his TV talk show, NewsRap — brought to our attention legislation being considered in Congress that would have probably shut down “P.E.G.” Access: the public, educational, and governmental channels that serve local communities nationwide.

Although the bills were being “sold” to the Congress and public by the telecommunications companies that own the cable networks as a means to deregulate cable operations and, thus, presumably bring down prices, the key component of the legislation would have allowed cable companies to obtain their franchises nationwide, with agreements made at the national level, rather than to continue the current practice, which required cable companies to negotiate separate agreements with each of the communities that was granting them an exclusive right to serve that community (Please see my work in that regard as well).

In the current method of negotiation, a city or county would obtain funding for PEG Access channels — including “I-Net” systems, which linked government offices, as for public safety — and also, a community would retain control over its rights-of-way, the streets and other public thoroughfares in and on which the cable companies erected their poles, towers, and other infrastructure. In addition, by retaining local control over cable franchises, there was less chance for companies to “redline” certain neighborhoods — that is, to deny them service, based upon such factors as race, age, income, political leanings, etc.

After thoroughly researching the issue, Barry and I (who had been a frequent guest/researcher on his show) devoted a lengthy segment of NewsRap to informing the public about the complexities and real-world repercussions of this legislation and about how the telecom companies had donated generously to the campaigns of senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle. As we told our audience, it was up to them to demand that Congress protect and preserve their community access television — a vital component of grassroots democracy in our high-tech Information Age.

In addition to our giving out the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of our legislators over the air and encouraging our audience to contact them, I sent out a mass e-mail to the progressive activists nationwide on Barry’s e-mail list. And I wrote the following article, which I posted in, with an “action form” that automated the sending of readers’ messages to their senators, representatives, and local newspapers nationwide.

We were part of a larger effort nationwide, which was successful at stalling the legislation indefinitely, in House and Senate (sub)committees (See links in the article below). Although PEG Access is still alive today, it is being “strangled” in many communities, by cable companies putting the community-based channels in a separate part of the onscreen program guide that is often not accessible by normal “channel surfing,” by cablecasting the programs at a lower (webcast) quality, and sometimes by making the local shows available only to viewers who pay an additional fee — all of which reportedly violate cable franchise agreements. The fight to retain — and grow — PEG Access and local control over cable franchises goes on.

Save Grassroots Democracy: Save Community Access TV

An Article by Yours Truly Published in OpEdNews September 30, 2005

“P.E.G.” stands for “Public, Educational, and Governmental” TV — Community Access Television — and that stands for us all!

But like just about anything else even slightly “progressive” these days — and there is nothing more progressive, or quintessentially American, than giving everyday citizens access to television, arguably the most powerful means of communication ever devised — Community Access TV is under attack, its very existence now threatened by powerful interests in the nearly trillion-dollar-a-year telecommunications industry.

But PEG has an ally even more powerful than the most multi-national of corporations: the public at large.

Don’t let ’em fool you: The real power over the airwaves ultimately lies not with the media moguls, as they’d have us believe, but with us in the public at large. Nobody can sell us a nickel’s worth of goods, or a TV program advertising them, unless we let them. We’re not just sheep to be led, all too often to the slaughter; we’re human beings who can think and do much as we please.

The only way the powers-that-be can impose their will upon the rest of us is with raw, brute force (and thank God that for most of us that has yet to happen) or with brutally effective psychological propaganda.

And that, of course, is where the mass media comes in. The most important commodity in the 21st Century — the thing that can set our minds (and thus the rest of us) free, or enslave us if we don’t pay enough attention — is information.

Although information has always been key to the advancement of our most intelligent of species, this has truly become the Information Age, not only because of our incredible technology but also because, freed by that technology, countless ideas are associating with countless other ideas from around the world and creating still other ideas, in an explosion, an orgy, a blossoming of unpredictably diverse, wonderfully human thought, feeling, and expression.

And that’s why the future of Community Access TV — giving face and voice to the creative minds and spirits of truly individual individuals and communities, as does the Internet (into which CAT productions are often webstreamed) — is more important than ever to safeguard and nurture.

Do we really want to live in a world without Community Access TV, of “one size fits all” television?

I doubt we do. Surveys have shown that half of the subscribers to cable TV have watched at least one community access program in the previous two weeks: That’s tens of millions of viewers, week after week. For some of us, the admittedly low-budget productions are something of a “guilty pleasure” — the shows will never have the technical sophistication of a network production — then again, no network “reality show” will ever have the reality and humanity, warts and all, of a truly homegrown production on Community Access TV.

But three — count ’em, three — bills in the Congress threaten to put an end to this contemporary form of grassroots democracy. Backed by the powerful telecommunications lobby, which has donated millions to politicians of both major parties, House Bill 3146 [stalled in subcommittee] and Senate Bills 1349 [stalled in committee] and 1504 (the latter, most famous, sponsored by John McCain and John Ensign [but stalled in committee]), would streamline negotiations and lower operating costs for the telecom industry by abolishing cable franchises with individual municipalities all across the nation.

The results would include not only cutting off financial support and access to the cable television system for PEG programs — produced freely by members of the public, educational institutions, and local bodies of government — as well as I-net communications — between local institutions (as for emergency services!) — but also most likely infringing on local governments’ rights of way (that which the taxpayers provide and the cable companies pay now to use, in accordance with local regulations), allowing large areas to go without cable service, and allowing “redlining” or other forms of discrimination — service could be denied based on such factors as race, ethnicity, or sex.

For more thorough analyses of these terribly flawed bills, now working their ways through Congressional committees, read here, here, and especially here.

And you will find in each of those excellent links sample letters with which to contact your senators and congressional representative. Don’t let the only voices they hear be those of the well-paid lobbyists of the telecom industry. Let your legislators know that they must ultimately answer to the people!

Let them know that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to community programming and to regulation of cable companies and our rights of way in the wonderfully diverse towns and cities that we call home. Let them know that public, educational, and governmental TV — Community Access TV — provides real value to our communities that cannot be replaced by any national programming.

As you may read in the links above, community access stations across the country are coordinating their efforts to mobilize their viewers and speak out with one voice: Save our Community Access TV!

And to help you help in this campaign — to help you help your own community — below is provided, through the good services of OpEdNews in conjunction with The Pen, an “action statement,” a link that will take you to an “action page,” in which you may quickly and easily send your message of opposition to HR 3146, S 1349, and S 1504 — your message in support of local cable franchises and Community Access TV — simultaneously to your senators and representative and, if you wish, your local newspaper (all identified for you by the automated system). Thank you for your support!

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