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PA: Public-Access TV, Past its scheduled time, but here

By saveaccess
Created 09/20/2007 - 9:09pm

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Public-Access TV
Past its scheduled time, but here

Philadelphia is about to lose its dubious distinction as the largest American city without a public-access cable television outlet for amateur programming.

Heard that before, right? Well, this time it's for real.

More than four years after Mayor Street endorsed moving ahead with a long-delayed citizen-run TV station, a deal finally is in place.

As announced Tuesday, the city's Comcast viewers will receive up to five channels airing programs created by fledgling producers, filmmakers and others. Look for shows on arts and culture, youth, faith, and issue forums.

That's been the decade-long dream of 80 groups allied as the Philadelphia Community Access Coalition. Credit their advocacy and hard work in hashing out the details with getting this deal done.

In 1,700-plus American communities with public-access TV, stations serve as an "electronic greenspace" - what the access coalition likens to "a city park, a place away from the bustle of commercialism, where people meet, share information and exchange ideas."

Well, it sure took a long time to gather the right crowd in support of creating an electronic public square for Philadelphia.

Along with community groups, Street deserves substantial credit for restarting the effort. Public-access TV fits nicely with the mayor's other signature high-tech issue: covering the city with a wireless Internet signal. But it was a low-tech decision - Street's agreement to donate a closed library for use as a station, plus utility costs - that resolved a key delay for public-access TV.

The other issue - capital and operating costs - was settled in talks with Comcast Corp. As holder of the cable franchise, Comcast was obligated to free up the five channels. Beyond that, public-access TV costs were to come from Comcast's franchise fees. But those fees have been gobbled up by the city's general fund. So Comcast's agreement to make additional company contributions was vital.

All that's needed now is City Council approval. Council should do nothing to delay the moment when the "On Air" sign can be lit at last for public-access TV.

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