CARVER — The Federal Communications Commission is proposing new rules that would, among other changes, alter the way Area 58 Community Access Media— Plympton, Halifax and Carver’s local cable access provider— and other local cable access providers across the country are funded, according to Area 58 Executive Director Rich Goulart.
Currently, funds are set aside from cable franchising fees, or the fees that the cable companies pay for access to a particular community, for community television channel access, broadcasting equipment and other monies needed to run local cable television studios.
The channels are known as public, educational, and governmental or PEG channels. This is part of the Federal Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, which requires cable companies to allocate a percentage of the profits they make from subscribers toward PEG channels.
Goulart said the proposed rules would allow cable companies to deduct from their franchising fees a value for these PEG channels, at a assessment they determine, as an “in-kind” donation.
He said this could lead to a situation where, if the rules were to go into effect— and he says they would go into effect immediately if they are enacted— the studio would be able to “keep the lights on,” but would not be able to pay its two full-time salaries, part-time salaries or purchase equipment to produce and disseminate television.
“This would have a crippling effect on public access,” he said. “This [proposal] came out of left field.”
The proposal has prompted the state’s two federal senators, Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, to send a letter to the chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, along with nine other senators opposing the rules:
“…[T]he proposal puts at risk critical funding for … [PEG] stations as well as broadband connections to schools and other public buildings. Our constituents watch PEG channels to monitor local government proceedings, hear the latest news from nearby college campuses, and consume other locally produced programming including emergency alerts and directives. Your proposal may jeopardize these important functions.”
PEG channels and their trade groups across the state and country have been united in their opposition to the proposed rule changes.
The rule was proposed by the FCC on Oct. 15. Although a comment period on the change has passed, comments to those already made are being accepted at fcc.gov/ regarding MB Docket No. 05-311.
Reply comments, letters of support or opposition and supporting documents have until 11:59 p.m. Dec. 14 to be submitted according to the instructions online.
“Massachusetts is one of the most vibrant states for public access,” said Goulart. “This is not good news…It’s a mess right now. It’s uncertain what it’s going to mean.”