Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is looking to drum up public opposition to an FCC proposal that he said threatens public access TV channels.
In September 2018, with the support of cable operators, the FCC voted to tentatively conclude that a local franchise authority's (LFA) ability to regulate cable service does not extend to broadband and other non-cable services, and proposed that in-kind commitments those authorities get from providers as part of franchise agreements count toward the 5% franchise fee cap, with the exception of the capital costs of providing public, educational and government (PEG) channels.
NCTA said those capital costs for PEG should not inlcude paying for cameras, playback devices and other equipment, or for transport costs. NCTA actually argues that the PEG requirement should go away entirely as a burden on speech that does not meet the high First Amendment bar for such regulation.
Following the FCC vote the Alliance for Community Media, a Washington D.C.-based access advocacy group representing more than 3,000 PEG channels, joined with a handful of local franchise authorities to argue that “would have devastating fiscal impacts on local communities and their residents and would undermine the Cable Act’s goal of promoting localism and diverse sources of information at a time when these goals are in most need of support.”
Sen. Markey is also concerned that will translate to "a dire drop in resources for local access television channels throughout the nation."
"Currently, towns and cities across the country are permitted to require as part of cable franchise agreements that cable operators meet demonstrated community needs by setting aside channels for public, educational, or governmental (PEG) stations," he said at the time. "However, the Commission’s proposal would permit cable companies to assign a value to these channels, and then subtract that amount, and the value they place on any other in-kind contributions, from the franchise fees the cable operator pays the local community."
To that end, the senator will host a roundtable at his Boston office, accompanied by representatives of a coalition of PEG channel operators, to talk about the "invaluable role these stations play in communities and blast the potential cuts to local programming."