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New rules threaten to put PCTV out of business

By Wednesday, Dec 5, 2018 Letters 2

To the editor:

Over the last 30 years, Pittsfield Community Television has served a special role in our community providing information, entertainment, sports and access to cable subscribers in the area. These programs are not provided by any Albany or Springfield channels.

PCTV’s unique programming includes coverage of local events such as the Fourth of July Parade, high school graduations and school concerts, school committee meetings, city council and dozens of other municipal meetings, press conferences, local high school sports events, Veterans’ Day parade and memorial service, programs by and for the elderly, faith-based programs, and a host of volunteer-driven programming that provides information to underserved populations. Many thousands of hours of local, first-run, original programming are aired across the three channels each year. None of it would be possible without the facility, staff and training provided by PCTV.

Most of the support for PCTV is provided by cable subscribers through a cable television license between the city of Pittsfield and the cable company. Pittsfield and other municipalities across the country negotiate in good faith with these large corporations to recoup the value of the public’s right of way used by the cable company to rake in huge profits each year. The cost of providing local access is miniscule in comparison. The benefit to our area is the local programming and services that PCTV provides.

With help from cable company lobbyists, the FCC has proposed new rules that threaten to put PCTV out of business—and this could happen very soon.

The FCC has proposed an accounting trick allowing cable companies to deduct “in-kind” contributions from the fees that support PCTV and other Public, Education, and Government Access organizations like it. The problem is that the rules would allow cable companies to decide what to deduct and how to value those services. At their own discretion, they could completely gut the funding that PCTV needs to operate. It will create an opportunity for the cable monopolies to subvert the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, which specifies that cable operators are expected to be receptive to their local communities’ needs and interests, and provide the means for this funding.

These are the same cable companies that recently chose their own profits over the public interest when they eliminated Massachusetts broadcast channels from cable lineups in all of Berkshire County. And now they are going after the only local voices left.

This FCC rulemaking circumvents decisions made by our local lawmakers, and endangers the existence of PCTV and hundreds of PEG access organizations like it across the country. As the board of directors of PCTV, we believe in the mission and the goals that our organization has cared so much about over the past three decades. That’s why we encourage everyone to take action now to protect PCTV.

We ask that everyone who cares about our local programming visit the FCC website by Friday, Dec. 14, 2018, and enter proceeding “05-311.” In the comments section, make your voice heard by expressing your opposition to this proposed rulemaking, as it will take away local programming that you care about and use. The cable companies should not be allowed to deduct “in-kind” contributions from contracted cable access fees. The subscribers will still have to pay the fees, but the community will not benefit.

You can also write to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai directly to voice your opposition to the proposal. His address is: the Honorable Ajit V. Pai, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission, 455 12th Street, Southwest, Washington, D.C. 20544. You may email him your letter at ajit.pai@fcc.gov.

Sincerely,

Pittsfield Community Television board of directors

Peter M. Marchetti, president
Donna Todd Rivers, vice president
Paul Durwin, treasurer
Jeffrey Turner, clerk
Brian Andrews
David Bubriski
Susetta Doucette
Patrick Gormalley
Donald Rochelo
Cindy Shogry-Raimer
William Sturgeon
Jonah Sykes
Carol Zelek-Gerwitz