McLeod sees cable group going to court if measure adopted

UPDATED, Aug. 2: The Federal Communications Commission voted on rules Thursday, Aug. 1, that are expected to have a direct impact on ACMi, the cable-TV outlet in town.

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The 3-2 vote aims to limit the benefits that communities get in return for the corporate use of public property. Read a report about the details >>

The Alliance for Community Media, a national group representing public-access cable stations, says the move will cost communities millions of dollars in fees to cable companies and opens the door to further action that may defund community public-access television in the future.

ACMi statement

Stations such as ACMi face a vote about their survival.

Norman McLeod, executive director of Arlington Community Media inc., wrote July 30:

"We at Arlington Community Media, like other community access stations, are most concerned about the effect the pending FCC proposal might have on ACMi. If the proposal is approved, it could mean that Comcast, RCN and Verizon could charge back to ACMi the in-kind value of the channels that currently carry ACMi programming.

"That charge-back would result in cuts in operational activities, programming and perhaps staff as we look to the future. The cable subscriber, however, would not see a drop in the amount they are being charged by the provider."

He noted a bright spot: "Fortunately, the Alliance of Community Media ... will challenge the decision if it goes against us and take the FCC to federal court. The potential detrimental FCC decision is unconstitutional, as it is trying to supersede the Cable Communications Act of 1984, which required cable providers to provide financing for the operation of local local programming facilities such as ACMi.

"This will be a long legal battle. Meanwhile, ACMi will continue to provide quality coverage of events and meetings in Arlington and afford Arlington residents the opportunity to learn and create their own programs." 

Markey, 14 others ask FCC to resist 

Meanwhile, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, this week led 15 of his colleagues urging the FCC to protect PEG stations.

“[PEG] stations connect Americans to their communities, catalyze civic engagement, and keep us up to date on the local issues and activities that affect our lives,” the senators in their letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “Your proposal would force local governments to decide between supporting PEG stations and supporting other important services for critical community institutions like schools and public safety buildings. We strongly urge the Commission to avoid any policy changes that will harm PEG channels and limit needed services to the communities we represent.”

See the full letter here >> 

Background

There are more than 1,500 public, educational, and governmental studios/operations and an estimated 3,000 PEG channels in America. Religious programming represents 30 percent of local-access programming. Tens of thousands of hours of programming is produced by veterans, seniors, the disabled and ethnic, minority and second language groups.

So far, 17 U.S. senators, 30 U.S. representatives and thousands of public commenters have opposed the new regulations on cable-television franchising on which the commission is set to vote.

Under laws set up by Congress, communities are allowed to charge rent or “franchise fees” for the use of public property and rights-of-way. Congress capped that rent at 5 percent of gross revenues on cable bills.

Now the FCC is proposing to expand the definition of franchise fees to include nonmonetary support for local communities and Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access television -- even though Congress intended those fees be only monetary payments, the alliance says.

The proposed rules would allow cable companies to assign market values to these benefits and then charge the amount back to local communities in most cases. Benefits include such items as free cable subscriptions to schools, discounts for the elderly and fiber connectivity to local government buildings such as police departments, fire stations and libraries.

Will the rules mean reduced cable bills? Because the FCC doesn’t regulate prices and has prevented local authorities from doing so, the answer is no.

So, consumers may see less local content, local governments will see their budgets shrink and cable-company owners will be able to pocket the additional proceeds.

The Alliance for Community Media opposes the proposed rules and is asking the FCC to modify them to lessen the harm to local communities and to access television in America.


Ars Technica, July 15, 2019: Ajit Pai’s new gift to cable companies would kill local fees and rules 

Nov. 11, 2018: YourAlington's support for ACMi


This news summary was published Tuesday, July 30, 2019, and updated Aug. 2.