There’s a bill in congress that’s bad news for public access television–H.R. 5252, also known as the Telecommunications and Opportunity Reform (ATOR) Act. It threatens the funding to public access stations across the U.S., though you might not realize it from a casual glance.
To understand why it’s bad, keep in mind how public access TV works. Cable companies need to use local infrastructure (called “right-of-way”) to deliver a television signal. They need to hang cables from telephone poles and tear up streets to bury fiber optic lines. To compensate local governments, they pay what’s called a franchising fee.
Until recently, most local governments had complete authority in negotiating these fees. They could determine how much to charge the cable companies based on the needs and goals of their community.
Many towns, cities, and counties decided to use their franchising fees to establish public access stations. These stations teach television production and provide citizens with a channel where their programs can be shown. This has brought real media empowerment to communities, as citizens there have a television channel they controll on their local cable service.
But the latest version of H.R. 5252 (ATOR) takes away local government’s right to negotiate with the cable companies. If the bill passes, Congress could determine how much cable companies pay for right-of-way, regardless of how much it actually costs your town, city, or county.
The good news is that H.R. 5252 hasn’t passed yet. There’s still time to tell your congressional representatives that you support public access, and want them too as well.
When communicating with your congresspersons, remember that H.R. 5252 is a big bill that covers a lot more than public access. If your congresspersons hear only that you’re against H.R. 5252, they have no way of knowing which issue motivates you. Let them know that it’s public access. If you have your own show on a public access station, tell them the name of the show and a little about it. Tell them why public access is important to you and your community.
If enough concerned voters contact congress, they will act to protect public access. Remember, if the people lead, the leaders will follow.
Actions you can take:
1. Send an e-mail to your senator or representative explaining your concerns over H.R. 5252. (Find your your senators and representatives here.)
2. Learn more about the issue. The Alliance for Community Media is the voice for public access on Capitol Hill-visit their Web site at http://www.alliancecm.org. Read their “How to get involved!” page.
3. Consider discussing these issues on your program. A lot of you produce talk shows, and this makes an excellent topic. Use public access to save public access! (The Alliance has even posted questions you could use in such a discussion-visit http://www.alliancecm.org for more information.)
4. Make an appointment to meet with your representative.
I originally wrote this for the newsletter of Arlington Independent Media (AIM), where I serve as president of the Board of Directors. AIM is the public access station for Arlington, Virginia. I’ve edited this article somewhat from the original. I’ve also created a page of links about H.R. 5252 for further reading.-Maurice Martin