Cape Cod Public Access Television in Jeopardy Under Proposed FCC Rule

HYANNIS – The future of public access television station on Cape Cod, and around the nation, could be in doubt under a proposed Federal Communications Commission rule.

The FCC released a proposal at the end of September, known as the “Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” that has the potential to critically impact the funding public access channels receive.

“That’s such a huge service we provide on the Cape and I think why the Cape’s local access has been so well-liked by the residents,” said Mashpee TV General Manager Bill Nay.

“I still think there’s too many people still who don’t know that we exist or why we exist or how we are funded, and that’s kind of a good issue to raise at this time as well.”

Public access stations are funded by the cable provider in the area in exchange for a fee assessed to the town. Mashpee TV, for example, receives funding from Comcast, the cable service provider of the area.

The rule change proposed by the FCC would allow cable operators to treat funding for cable-related costs as “in-kind” donations, resulting in the deduction of an undefined amount of money from funds that traditionally would’ve gone to municipalities and community media centers across the country.

“What they’re proposing to do is allow cable companies across the country to do is put together some of the services that they provide as part as their license agreement,” said Nay.

“One of their obligations under that license agreement is that they need to provide 5-percent of their gross income that they extract from any community and give it back to the community. Primarily, it’s to run the local access channels, and they also do certain things to provide discounts to senior citizens and potentially other homebound people.” 

Nay says the proposal could put his station “in a tenuous situation.”

Mashpee TV joined other stations in the region in a campaign to inform the public of the proposal through public service announcements, approaching elected officials, and requesting the public to send letters to the FCC.

President of MassAccess Melinda Garfield has warned that the move could completely end public access programming nationwide.

“If they were allowed to deduct the entire franchise fee we’d be out of business. I’d say 95-percent of our budget comes from that cable franchise fee,” Nay explained.

“Some of the local channels in Falmouth or Cape Media in Dennis Port have been around a little longer than us and have diversified their funding in many ways. It’s still going to be devastating to any one of our situations here on the Cape.”

By TIM DUNN, News Center 

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