Comments flood the FCC in opposition to its proposal

several associations representing cities, counties, and towns began its comments this way:

The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, the United States Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the National Association of Regional Councils and the National Association of Towns and Townships do not agree with the tentative conclusions in the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the above-referenced docket.

The tentative conclusion that cable franchise requirements such as public, educational and government channels and customer service obligations are franchise fees is not supported by the Cable Act or its legislative history, and would have significant, negative impacts on local governments and cable subscribers.

The tentative conclusion that local governments have no authority regarding cable operators’ use of the rights of way to provide non-cable services similarly is not supported by the language of the Cable Act and clear legislative intent to preserve local authority over cable operators’ non-cable services.

Both proposals are contrary to federal law and will create a special class of providers— cable operators—who receive a windfall at the expense of taxpayers and subscribers in communities across the country. We urge the Commission to reconsider its tentative conclusions.

We are seeing the end of one of the guiding principles of FCC regulation - promoting localism in media — and the idea that mass media owners have a public interest obligation. This rulemaking could result in cable operators being able to deduct from franchise fees all in-kind contributions — including the value of cable access channels. Given tight city budgets, such an outcome would likely force many cities to give up their access channels entirely. It would truly be a loss for public information sharing.
— Mary Cardona, WCM Executive Director
In an era of media globalization and consolidation, PEG access stations continue to give viewers critical information about their communities and offer and important platform for local voices. They catalyze civic engagement and they provide invaluable education services. As the Commission proceeds on this issue, we urge you to consider the potential impact on PEG stations.
— October 29, 2018 Letter from Democratic Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and nine others to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

FCC action threatens the existence of community access channels  

Community Access Television is under an unprecedented attack from the Federal Communications Commission.  The FCC, chaired by Ajit Pai, is considering ways to whittle away the public interest obligations cable companies have under federal law by charging cities for anything that does not earn the companies revenue.

City expenses will go up, cable company expenses will go down, and cable subscribers will pay the same price for cable but without the Public, Education, and Government (PEG) access channels that air locally-produced programs. Community access channels will disappear because many cities will no longer be able to afford to equip, staff, and pay for them.

For nearly 50 years, first under FCC regulations then under federal law, cable operators have been required to provide communities with the use of one or more PEG “access” channels on their systems for programming of local interest – government meetings, issue debates, local music shows, community events, school sports and more. Knowing that cities have many serious priorities, federal law also provided two ways to fund these channels so that cities could afford to produce programming and train the public to do so, too. The two funding sources are the franchise fee (called video provider fees in Wisconsin) and the PEG fee.

The FCC is proposing that cities pay cable companies for these channels by deducting the cost from the franchise fees cable companies pay to cities for the use of city streets. This is the same fund cities use to pay for community television and other city services.  If a large portion of the franchise fee goes to buy channel space on the cable system, what will municipalities use to fund community TV?

How much will municipalities have to pay? No one knows. The FCC is considering the “market value of the channel” or “the cost to the cable operator.” Conceivably it could be more than what a community gets in franchise fees (known as video provider fees in Wisconsin).

The other fee cities may assess under federal law to pay for PEG facilities and equipment, called a PEG fee, was outlawed in Wisconsin with 2007 Act 42. PEG fees sunset in 2011. So if the FCC comes out with a Report & Order that allows cable operators to deduct any in-kind expenses from franchise fees, it would be particularly bad for Wisconsin, since there might not be any money left to fund community TV.

Why is access television important?

Wisconsin Community Media believes that strong community media centers — the kind of centers that cover government meetings and critical community issues and those that give students a chance to learn the craft of media-making and see themselves on TV, and those that give residents the chance to learn to produce their own shows to share their ideas, their talents, their events, and their projects with the larger community are those that also create strong communities. PEG access channels help knit together a community identity that fosters understanding and collaboration.

WCM also believes that our national community needs this media space now more than ever. We believe anyone who sees what community media can do would want PEG channels to be available in their town. We believe that the contribution these channels make to community life far outweighs any expense incurred by cable operators and that cable operators should embrace the opportunity to build stronger communities through access television. And finally, we believe that websites cannot replace the common experience of viewing programs on a broadcast medium.

If the FCC is successful in reinterpreting the law in this unprecedented way, Wisconsin cities will face an unwelcome choice:  keep the community PEG access channels and find another source of money to fund production of programming or return the channels to the cable company.  If the PEG channels are returned, there will be no local programming on cable anymore. 

What you can do.

WCM is very concerned about the future of community access television here in Wisconsin.

The Reply Comment period is now open on the FCC’s Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (MB Docket No. 05-311).  If you like being able to see your community on Cable TV, there are some things you can do as a city council, an elected official, a non-profit organization, a community media center, a community TV producer, and a viewer.

  • Urge your city to submit Reply Comments HERE (due by December 14) to the FCC about the irreparable harm this rulemaking would have.

  • Tell your media center you would like to sign on to a letter to the FCC that would be filed as reply comments.

  • File your own comments with the FCC using the Express Filing Page: https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings/express

  • Contact your U. S. Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson and/or your U. S. Member of Congress and tell them about your concerns. Go here to get contact information for them: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/WI#representatives

When you file, use the Docket Number “05-311.” You are filing “Reply Comments.” Fill in your contact information as it requests. No other windows need to be filled in.

What you can say.

Sample Letter from a Municipality, Viewer, or Organization (drafted by the Alliance for Community Media)

Sample Formal Comment template from a Municipality (drafted by the Alliance for Community Media)

Sample Resolution with specific Wisconsin concerns (drafted by Wisconsin Community Media, reviewed by ACM)
This was written for municipalities, but it could also be adapted slightly and used by organizations that wish to comment.


What some others have said to the FCC.

October 29, 2018 Letter from Democratic Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and nine others

Wisconsin Community Media and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities

NATOA, US Conference of Mayors, et. al.

Alliance for Community Media

Atty. Joe Van Eaton and Gerry Lederer on behalf of cities

Bradley Group (includes the Wisconsin cities of West Allis, Watertown, Oregon, and New London)

City of Wausau, Wisconsin

Anthony Palmeri of Oshkosh (copied from FCC’s “express” message window)

Antoine Haywood (copied from FCC’s “express” message window)

City of Burnsville, Minnesota

Higher Education Channel, St. Louis, MO

Village of Northbrook, Illinois

Iowa League of Cities

Jersey Access Group and others

All Comments submitted to the FCC (the FCC’s searchable database)

Cable industry comments - What advocates need to “reply” to:

National Cable Television Association

American Cable Association (small operators)

Verizon