Proposed Threat to Public Access Television

publicaccessST. JOHNSBURY- The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a new rule that would cut funding to cable-access television stations across the country. According to Kevin Christopher, Executive Director of Lake Champlain Access Television, it's a decision that the Commission is backing with the explanation of allowing new service providers to be more competitive with the incumbents. However, he feels their true motive may be a bit more money-based.

"What I really think is going on here is, it's more of the de-regulation that we saw as with net neutrality. It's the FCC, some of whom were attorneys or lobbyists for big telecommunications companies, looking to de-regulate the obligations of these telecommunications companies, and put more money in the shareholders pockets basically," he said.

In essence, if the rule change does go through, public access stations as a whole could cease to exist. And as well as impacting lives, jobs, and the flow of information on a national basis, the decision will also hit close to home as Kingdom Access T.V. is a member of the VT Access Network. According to Jamie Dimick, General Manager of KATV, the change would be detrimental to surrounding communities.

"Kingdom Access T.V. has managed to partner with almost every single non-profit community group- community organization in our viewing area. And we've been doing that absolutely 100 percent free of charge. We refrain from doing commercial work. It's all about the communities that we serve, and the viewers in those communities," he said, going on to note their inability to realistically continue providing local coverage without the funding.

Not only would this decision impact those like Christopher and Dimick who work for public access organizations, but it would also target the community as a whole. One activist group that's been very vocal about their concerns over the decision is the League of Women Voters. According to a letter they sent to the state's Congressional Delegation, "These stations facilitate transparency in local government, and provide an invaluable medium for education and the arts."

In League member, Karen Bufka's opinion, communication and information change everything. "Our community will just not be as vibrant. On the one hand, I'm looking at it through the lens of the League of Women Voters, where we're talking about engaging with our self-governance, and the structures that we have in place that allow us to live together as individuals in a community."

Bufka went on to explain that in the last year alone, KATV has covered numerous gatherings and programs put on by the League of Women Voters, and without community access television the discussions would have been limited to the people in the room.

For many involved in public access, this decision would cut much deeper than a hit to their jobs. "The bottom line is, the thing that I really enjoy is that we're offering a service that helps people. We're helping and encouraging people to get a message out. For the most part it's a free service. People are not impeded by some kind of gateway where they have to pay to get it," said Dimick.

Moving forward, Christopher does expect the rule to pass, but believes there will be an opportunity to take the case to an appeals court where it will become a matter of litigation. In the meantime, he encourages those who want to get involved to contact their Congressional Delegation before December 15 to request that the FCC slow down their process for the rule change. At this point, a decision is scheduled for January of 2019.


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