Friday, 24 May 2024

Monitoring new policies crucial to protecting public access TV

This is the second of a three-part series on changing cable franchise policy and its impact on public access television, including the local PEG Channel 8.

LAKE COUNTY – Communities that want to maintain their public access channels must stay ahead of the curve in becoming familiar with the new law, says franchise consultant John Risk of Communications Support Group in Costa Mesa, who formerly worked in Northern California.

Risk has prepared an advice memo which notes that certain aspects of the statewide law make life more difficult for Local Franchise Authorities (LFA).

Those include definition for gross revenues, an LFA's authority to require that cable/other franchised video providers allow LFAs to access these providers’ systems for the transmission of emergency announcements, an LFA’s authority to negotiate for Institutional Networks (“I-Nets”) in cable franchises, and several aspects of public, educational and government access (“PEG Access”) programming and funding.

He recommends that the LFA evaluate the value of PEG support it gets from the incumbent cable operator and compare that with the amount of support that might arise with a surcharge of 1 percent of gross revenues.

Sue Buske, another nationally-known consultant based in Sacramento, recommends enforcing federally required audits of the cable provider, which is part of the franchise renewal process. Last month she was working in Columbia, Mo., with an access station based at Stephens College.

There, the Columbia Missourian reported on Jan. 4, “Court documents show Mediacom failed to pay $93,105 in franchise fees between Jan. 1, 2001, and Sept. 30, 2004. The debt is even higher now, because city code allows it to charge 10 percent interest per year.

“Most of the time they find something,” Buske said of the audits. “It’s not that uncommon.”

Jeff Rein, deputy county administrator for Lake County, said he had unsuccessfully urged hiring a franchise consultant and getting an audit two or three years ago. He also wanted the county to negotiate for an I-net, connecting all public facilities. “That would have saved us $100,000 a year,” he said.

While the county now is involved in a Joint Public Authority for public access, Rein said previous boards of supervisors have not been interested in public access because they didn't want to be involved in issues of content and control.

Although municipalities are entitled to enact a 1-percent surcharge on gross cable franchise fees to be used specifically for public access operations, local governments have not done so. Another funding solution used by many public access systems is a paid membership program, which often includes training in making videos for broadcast.

PEG Committee member Hiram Dukes said he believes local programming could fill three channels with contributions from students. He noted video training programs exist at both Carlé and Konocti high schools, and said he's had Upper Lake High School students offer programs. “The kids are interested in getting their activities on, football games and so forth.”

It's common in many communities which have both public access and a community college to develop a partnership in which students get training and course credit for video production. Often, the training and use of equipment are open to non-students.

Although Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules prohibit censorship, the local committee has had frequent disputes about what can be shown. The FCC rules say: "Cable operators may not control the content of programming on public access channels with the exception that the cable operator may refuse to transmit a public access program, or a portion of the program, which the cable operator reasonably believes contains obscenity."

Past PEG boards have objected to religious programming and antiwar programming.

For a while, Channel 8 originated “Backroads,” an occasional tour of the city by Frank Cammarata, a former PEG Committee member and David Lane, former Clearlake city administrator.

At one point, the committee decided to institute a $100 fee to show a contributed video; it's common practice among community cable stations to freely trade programs which might be of wide interest.

Raymond, NH, a coastal town with a population of fewer than 3,000, has an active public access channel with production facilities based at the local high school.

During floods last year, a member of the Raymond PEG committee “went out to various roads and checked with the police and fire chiefs to find out information regarding road closings, safety measures, and other flood related coverage. They were then able to post this information on Channel 22,” according to at

Tomorrow: Powerful interests persuade politicians to enact statewide video franchise laws.

E-mail Sophie Annan Jensen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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