U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Edward Markey (D-MA) today introduced 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 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."
"PEG access stations are televised town squares where local citizens can see and hear what is happening in their own community, and respond with their own voices to the issues affecting their cities and towns," said Markey. "I have long admired the goals of education and participation heralded by these TV channels, and I will continue to support the work of these vital local resources."
Across the country, there over 2,000 public, educational, and governmental (PEG) studios/operations and an estimated 5,000 PEG channels. In a time of media consolidation, these local, non-commercial access channels bring unique voices, perspectives, and programming to communities. 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. And religious programming represents 20-40 percent of local access programming.
PEG channels receive no federal funding. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 grants municipalities the right to assess a small franchise fee, which is paid to local or state governments to support community media centers. Several states, while intending to preserve PEG and community media, have adopted statewide video franchising standards that have devastated PEG funding. Since 2005, PEG access channels have suffered severe setbacks as a result of these statewide franchising laws passed in 23 states. These laws took away a local community's ability to negotiate with cable operators, resulting in six states - Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Iowa, and Missouri - losing all funding for PEG channels in 2012. In addition, in 2007, the FCC ruled, subject to some important exceptions, that PEG franchise 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, or the support historically provided for PEG, or up to 2 percent of gross revenue, whichever is greater. The CAP Act costs nothing, will address the severe challenges faced by PEG access channels and local community media, and will save thousands of jobs across the country.
"Congress, through the cable acts of 1984 and 1992, intended to make sure that local communities could have PEG access channels and funding in return for the cable operators' use of public rights-of-way," said John Rocco, President, American Community Television. This legislation will restore what Congress intended and helps to secure a local community's ability to use these channels to communicate. We want to thank Senator Baldwin and Senator Markey for working together to save these channels."
"Wisconsin needs the CAP Act," said Mary Cardona, Executive Director of Wisconsin Community Media. "In 2007, state franchise legislation eliminated PEG funding. Since then, citizen-produced local programming has withered while local governments strive to retain coverage of local affairs. Some key public access centers in the state have closed their doors. The CAP Act will restore support for the community programming residents want. The continuing erosion of community television services in the state has been of great concern to Wisconsin Community Media and we could not be more thrilled at the re-introduction of the CAP Act by Senators Baldwin and Markey."
"In a time when religious programming face increasing challenges to its voice being given an equal platform, PEG channels offer a venue for these programs to be accessed," said Bishop John C. Wester, Diocese of Salt Lake City and chair of the USCCB Committee on Communications. "This is of particular importance for the elderly, disabled or homebound who long to remain connected to their religious communities but are unable to take part in their religious or community activities."
The CAP Act is supported by the Alliance for Community Media (ACM), American Community Television, The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), The National League of Cities, The United States Conference of Mayors, Americans for the Arts, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.