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Letter to FCC: Keep viability of public access TV stations

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By Sunday, Dec 16, 2018 Letters 1

Hon. Ajit Pai, Chair
Federal Communications Commission 445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Pai,

Our organization, the Berkshire Democratic Brigades, is strongly opposed to the rule change under consideration which would, in effect, virtually eliminate the franchise fees to which municipalities are entitled under the provisions of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984. As you know, the income stream derived from these fees is the very lifeblood of community television.

Pittsfield Community TV (PCTV), our local public access provider, furnishes a unique service to the city of Pittsfield and the surrounding communities in Massachusetts’ Berkshire County. PCTV allows our residents to experience government at its most transparent by broadcasting in their entirety the proceedings of the City Council and its many committees, those of the city’s School Committee, and the sessions of the city’s many commissions.

Older residents who find it difficult to drive, those who lack cars, and those whose parental responsibilities tether them to home and prevent them from attending in person may still occupy a ringside seats at public meetings and ceremonies; can still enjoy high school sports, graduations and concerts; and be spectators at Veterans and July 4th parades.

Cooking classes, civic education, panel discussions of topical interest, lectures, and musical performances and other entertainment are broadcast every day of the week from the PCTV studios, enriching the daily lives of all our residents, but again most especially our elderly, our mobility impaired, and those without ready access to transportation who would otherwise be isolated from the life of the community.

The same can be said of the other community television stations serving the Berkshires: Community Television of the Southern Berkshires (CTSB) in Lee, WilliNet in Williamstown, and North Berkshires Community Television (NBCT) in North Adams.

PCTV, like its public access counterparts in the Berkshires and those all over the country, brings clarity and understanding about the world directly into our residents’ homes and into their lives and knits them together as one community.

If the proposed rule change is enacted, much, if not all of that, will disappear. And not just at our local stations, but at thousands of public access community channels across our nation.

Of necessity, public access television has a price tag, although a modest one owing to its nonprofit status and modest scale. Production of its valuable programming entails the payment of salaries, fees, rent and utilities.

Cable companies have been consistently charging their captive customers high rates for monthly subscriptions; and those rates have been steadily increasing, making cable companies and the cable industry as a whole among the most profitable in the nation. The levying of a 5 percent franchise fee on the gross revenues of cable companies to pay for public access television is not much of an imposition on the industry, considering that it receives exclusive access to a vast pool of paying customers, and the resulting windfall profits, in return.

We believe that there is no justification for abandoning a rule that has done so much good for so many people. The only conceivable beneficiary of the proposed rule change would be the cable industry and its bottom line. We believe that the FCC should not be acting as handmaiden to the broadcast and cable industry.

Quite the opposite; we would argue that the FCC must rein in the demands of the commercial interests it oversees when those demands conflict with the public good. The FCC has a responsibility, indeed a mandate, to regulate industry in the public interest. The Commission is failing in its duty if it allows the cable companies, through their use of a corporate accounting shell game, to deny community television the funding it depends on for its continued existence and health.

Respectfully,

Sheila Irvin

Pittsfield, Mass.

The writer is chair of the Berkshire Democratic Brigades.



One Comment   Add Comment

  1. Laura says:

    Public access TV is also where community members can take low or no-cost classes about filming, editing, and producing television. And they can use the cameras, editing equipment, and studio to produce their shows. It is very important that we preserve this service. This is how many of the shows about our local community are produced. The cable companies agreed to this when they first moved into our communities and they should be held to their promise.

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