Vol. III No. 15 8/1/2022
by Carole Owens
The Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 gave the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) jurisdiction over the cable companies. The FCC required that a cable company with more than 35 channels must provide (at no charge) public access, education, and government channels. The cable company was also required to pay a "franchise fee" to community television producing the content for those channels. A franchise fee was a percentage of money the cable company collected from its customers. The franchise fee was an annual monetary payment.
In 2019, the FCC continued to require cable companies to provide the channels and pay the fee, however, it allowed those companies to deduct the value of "in-kind services" — equipment, channel access, etc. — from the monetary payment. There were five members of the FCC in 2019. The vote was along party lines (3-2). Those opposed felt the change targeted local public, educational, and government information channels. They were concerned the change threatened the breadth of service public access stations could offer, that is, TV and online coverage of all town government meetings, and other locally produced informational programs.
In Berkshire County in 2019, the Five Town Cable Advisory Committee with two representatives from each of five towns - Stockbridge, Lenox, Lee, Great Barrington, and Sheffield - voted unanimously to urge the MA Attorney General Maura Healey (now a gubernatorial candidate) to file a lawsuit to overturn the FCC ruling. The lawsuit would prevent cable companies from cutting back or terminating funding for local public access channels and threatening their survival.
Today, in our area, the cable company with many more than 35 channels is Spectrum, and the public access television station is Community Television South Berkshire (CTSB). CTSB serves the five towns, and the Advisory Board is still in place. With no change in the FCC ruling, one result is CTSB faces service cutbacks. For example, CTSB may stop covering some governmental meetings.
The Five Town Cable Advisory Board will soon negotiate a ten-year contract with Spectrum. While the Board cannot overrule the FCC, there is much they can do in contract negotiations to assure CTSB is healthy and provides maximum information to the public.
This is the people's issue: it is part of transparency in government — a way of keeping up with what's going down.
Write a letter to the editor or to Michael Canales, Town Administrator, and Advisory Board representative. Let them know government meetings via Zoom matter. You want to attend even if you are away, can't drive at night, or aren't feeling well. Attend the negotiating meetings and express your desires.
Photo: Lionel Delevingne