Bill Olson on “Threat to Access”

The man who wrote The History of Public Access Television says that history may be coming to an end. Here’s his take on the three-way dance between access, government, and telecommunication companies that may spell the death of this beautiful, quirky institution.

Threat to Access”
By Bill Olson
May 17, 2007

You might recognize my name as the person who wrote an essay called “The History of Public Access Television. ( history-public-access-TV.html). Sadly, that history may be coming to an end, thanks to efforts by AT&T to do away with local franchise agreements.

Currently in Wisconsin, AT&T has 16 lobbyists working the statehouse, trying to pass the bills written by their corporate lawyers. AB 207 & SB 107 were written to make it easier for phone companies like AT&T to offer “video services” (cable TV) by doing away with the requirement to negotiate franchise agreements with local governments. It would also do away with PEG (Public, Education and Government Channel) fees, requirements to serve an entire community (including impoverished neighborhoods) and a host of consumer protections.

AT&T has failed to pass a national bill along these lines, so now they are going state by state. They have already facilitated the passing of similar legislation in 11 states, and if they havenÂ’t come to your state yet, they will.

AT&T is so intent to abolish public access TV in Wisconsin that it has singled it out for special requirements engineered to make this valuable service impossible to operate, including that we broadcast no fewer than 12 hours of new locally-produced programming every day, the elimination of PEG fees and that we pay for the equipment to send our signal to the cable companies.

For us, any one of these would put us out of business.

In Wisconsin, AT&T and its supporters have kept the bill on the fast track as much as possible. Less than two months after the bills were introduced, they were up for a vote. We couldÂ’ve been abolished in early May 2007. Our supporters in the legislature tried introducing amendments and tried to slow the bills down by sending them to the Joint Finance Committee.

Voting was along party lines. In both houses, all the Democrats voted to send their bill to the JFC, and all Republicans voted against it. The Assembly is Republican controlled, so the bill stayed there, and in fact, they recently passed it. The Senate voted by three votes to send their bill to the JFC where itÂ’s not expected to be taken up again until after dealing with the state budget. WeÂ’ve been told we probably have until September.

One can’t really say that the Republican are the villains and the Democrats are the heroes; since the phone companies are organized and the cable companies aren’t, many liberal groups support these bills. And AT&T, apparently dismayed by the party-line voting, has recently hired their 16th lobbyist – Joe Wineke, the state’s Democratic chair.

Republican Assembly Representative Terry Moulton introduced an amendment that was added to AB 207 before it passed. Mr. Moulton as been saying and writing that he has saved public access TV with this amendment, but he only created a 3-year delayed reaction. Three years after the bill is signed into law (if itÂ’s signed into law as currently written), public access TV will be put out of business.

So there is some hope: We have until September (possibly) to defeat or change the law. We are currently circulating a petition to urge legislators to add amendments that would reduce our revenue from PEG fees, but keep the fees in place, keeping us alive. The local city council (we broadcast live city council meetings) unanimously passed a resolution supporting us. We have supporters, we have a little time. WeÂ’ll see what happens.

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Bill Olson
(715) 835-6446

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One Response to Bill Olson on “Threat to Access”

  1. Whycome no apostrophes in that letter.

    Apostrophes arent evil, are they?

    (I blame those greedy b#st*rds at AT&T!)


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