Baldwin and Markey Preserve Public Access to Local Television Channels, Ensure Diversity of Programming

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) have reintroduced the Community Access Preservation (CAP) Act, legislation to ensure public access to local television programming.

“The 80-plus public, educational, and governmental access channels in the state of Wisconsin deliver invaluable public programming on a daily basis, commercial free and with the sole purpose of informing and educating our communities,” said Senator Baldwin. “As local budgets tighten and television delivery methods change, we must ensure that our local public access channels are able to continue to reflect local interests and bring diverse programming to the public.”

"Across Massachusetts and the country, PEG access station serve as televised town squares where local citizens see and hear what is happening in their own community and can respond with their own voices,” said Senator Markey. “We must ensure that the goals of education and participation embodied by these TV channels are supported and Americans continue to benefit from their presence in their living rooms.”

There are over 2,000 public, educational, and governmental (PEG) studios/operations and an estimated 5,000 PEG channels in America.  In a time of media consolidation, these local, non-commercial access channels bring unique voices, perspectives, and programming to communities.  They connect residents with their local governments in much the same way C-SPAN connects constituents to activities in Congress.  Local school districts operate PEG channels to feature school board meetings and forums, homework helpers, interviews, lectures, and sporting events not otherwise broadcast on television.  Religious programming represents 30 percent of local access programming. Tens of thousands of hours of programming is produced by veterans, seniors, the disabled and ethnic, minority and second language groups.

“Every community in the U.S. deserves the ability to produce and receive vital civic information through the local non-commercial media channels that PEG provides,” said Alliance for Community Media President Mike Wassenaar. “That principle must be maintained regardless of how technologies change and grow.   We want to thank Senators Baldwin and Markey for their work to not just preserve community access television, but to help it flourish throughout America.”

 “Now, more than ever, the CAP Act is desperately needed.  Our local community media is critical to the communities as media continues to consolidate,” said John Rocco, President of American Community Television. “And, the need for local government transparency is at an all-time high.  We must protect and preserve this precious community resource and make sure the local community is represented in the media landscape.”

“The work local media centers do in their communities is important to a vibrant and inclusive community life.  Our brick and mortar centers bring people together from diverse backgrounds to create shows that reflect what they see as important in their social, political, or religious communities,” said Mary Cardona, Executive Director of Wisconsin Community Media. “Local media starts conversations and leads to solutions. In 2007 when state franchise legislation passed in Wisconsin eliminating all local franchises and funding for public access television, it also ended the practice outlined in federal law of taking community needs into consideration.  As a result, several of our centers have closed.  The CAP Act contains the provisions Wisconsin needs to stop the erosion of public, education, and government access television services and gives it the support these centers need to serve their communities well.”

PEG channels receive no federal funding.  The Cable Acts of 1984 and 1992, grant local municipalities the right to require PEG channels and support for those channels as “rent” for cable operators’ use of the public right-of-way.  Historically, the number of channels and funding dedicated to PEG was negotiated as part of local cable franchise agreements between the cable company and the local community.  The result was that each community determined how much it wanted to invest in its own programming. 

Since 2005, PEG access channels have suffered severe setbacks as a result of statewide franchising laws passed in 22 states.  These laws took away local communities’ ability to negotiate with cable operators, resulting in communities and consumers in eleven states (Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina and Wisconsin) losing all funding for PEG channels. American Community Television, working in partnership with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to help preserve PEG channels, estimates that the loss of funding could result in the closure of as many as 500 PEG television channels in the coming years. 

In addition, in 2007, the FCC ruled, subject to some important exceptions, that PEG programming fees could only be used for facilities and equipment, and not for operating expenses.  As a result, many communities are closing PEG facilities because, while they have equipment, there are no funds to operate them. 

The CAP Act amends the Cable Act to ensure that PEG fees can be used for any purpose, including paying employee salaries.  The legislation reaffirms that cable operators must deliver PEG channels to subscribers without additional charges, and via channel placement with the same quality, accessibility and functionality as provided to local television broadcast stations.  Finally, it requires operators to provide the support required under state laws, the support historically provided for PEG, or up to 2 percent of gross revenue – whichever is greater.  The CAP Act involves no federal spending, will address the severe challenges faced by PEG access channels and local community media, and will save thousands of jobs across the country.

The CAP Act is supported by American Community Television (ACT), The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), The National League of Cities, The United States Conference of Mayors, Americans for the Arts, the Alliance for Community Media (ACM), and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.