Cable television

Community Cable TV: Stop the FCC Rule

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering a rule that promotes fear of ruining the future of community cable access stations across the country.

That means there will be no more coverage of the high school football game, officials at two cable access organizations said. It means a loss of transparency in local government without more meeting coverage, they added, and, more importantly, the loss of a local voice.

Major corporate studios have nothing on community cable television, according to Jason Dudas of the Telecommunications Board of Northern Kentucky (TBNK).

Early in his career, program director Dudas spent some time in Hollywood.

“My job here is much more satisfying,” said Dudas, who has worked at TBNK for 20 years. “I love knowing that one day a guy will show his kid the big touchdown he scored. He’ll release a DVD of the game that we covered and produced. It’s safely tucked away on his shelf. It doesn’t never made it to the pros, but it’s his special memory to share. It’s important.”

According to Dudas, the projects he worked on in Los Angeles were forgotten as soon as they came out. This is not the case in Northern Kentucky.

“We are more important here,” he said. “We are a big part of people’s daily lives.”

A possible FCC decision, however, could change that.

The FCC’s proposed rule would significantly reduce funding for community cable television stations such as TBNK across the country.

Like those stations, TBNK features community programming provided by residents and local organizations, original staff-produced programming, government meetings, and coverage of various community and sporting events.

Community cable television stations also offer free education and the use of professional video equipment.

“We allow the public to produce their own programming and spread their ideas,” said TBNK Executive Director Tim Broering. “We are the voice of the community.”

However, the FCC rule, which could take effect at any time, would allow cable companies to deduct the cost of local programming from the franchise fees they pay to cities and towns.

The FCC’s proposed rule states: “Specifically, we tentatively conclude that we should treat cable-related ‘in-kind’ contributions required by a franchise agreement as ‘franchise fees’ subject to the statutory 5% cap on franchise fee set out in the Communications Act 1934.”

Basically, according to Broering, capital costs — the cost of equipment and maintenance to produce community programming — would now count towards franchise fees with the 5% cap, which limits funds.

Limited funds mean limited service and, for some, access stations struggling to make ends meet, the end.

FCC Representative Will Wilquest said the commission would not comment on the matter but “let the proposal speak for itself.”

It’s unclear how the rule will affect community cable television stations in Ohio. It all depends on the final decision and how cable companies choose to respond to it, according to Chip Bergquist, executive director of Waycross Community Media.

Waycross provides public, educational and government access services for Forest Park, Greenhills, Springfield Township and Colerain Township.

“Because the Ohio Legislature removed cable franchising from local municipalities in 2007, many of the funding issues contemplated by the FCC’s decision would no longer have effect,” he said. .

“That said, depending on how the ruling is interpreted in the future, it could allow cable companies to bill for the actual channels themselves, which Congress did not envision when the Cable Act was enacted.” , Bergquist said.

It’s unclear if this would be applicable in states with state franchise laws, however, Bergquist said, it’s something Waycross is concerned about.

“We have worked to diversify our funding over the past few years, however, franchise royalties remain a very important component of our budget,” he said. “We hope the FCC crafts a sensible resolution and that cable companies continue to support local communities, schools, community media centers and their subscribers who use and watch (public) access channels.”

Broering, a Fort Thomas resident who has been on staff for 17 years, said TBNK airs a few hundred shows a week on six channels. In addition, many of the shows produced by staff, as well as those by residents, have received local and national recognition.

“We work hard to create quality programming for our audience,” Broering said. “We broadcast more than 20 government meetings a month and provide comprehensive coverage of Northern Kentucky elections, to name a few. We are a public service.”

Broering believes the FCC is overstepping its bounds and the effects will be devastating to all community access stations.

“Big cable companies are bought and sold for tens of millions of dollars,” he said. “They can use this rule to remove what they don’t want in their budget. Thousands of people across the country have filed comments with the FCC. Hopefully our voices will be heard.”

The public comment period has ended, but residents of Kentucky and Ohio can still contact the FCC commissioners here.