Published on Save Access (

Cable access could face cut

By saveaccess
Created 06/03/2006 - 1:11pm

From: Worcester Telegram and Gazette [1]

Cable access could face cut
Funding affects public channels

Jun 3, 2006

WORCESTER— The city’s three public access television channels could lose nearly $700,000 in annual funding under major telecommunications legislation before Congress, according to a recent report by the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Community Media.

The legislation aims at creating greater local competition to lower costs for cable TV, Internet and telephone customers, and includes provisions that could alter the traditional “net neutrality,” changing the equal access that exists for all Internet Web sites.

One section of the bill would adjust how public access stations are funded. The report analyzing the potential losses states that Worcester’s channels would lose about 70 percent of the $985,000 they now receive. Other projected losses in the state range from 50 percent in Fall River to 84 percent in Cambridge and Holliston.

“It’s very serious and very important, especially for those of us who believe in democratic media and particularly community media,” said WCCA Executive Director Mauro DePasquale.

The House is expected to vote this month on the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation is reviewing its own version.

Currently, Worcester’s 56,000 cable subscribers fund the city’s public access stations — Channels 11, 12 and 13 — through a fee based on 5 percent of Charter Communications’ annual revenues. Both the House and Senate bills would base public access funding on 1 percent of cable providers’ annual revenues.

Charter provides cable, Internet and telephone service in the Worcester area.

Public access advocates shouldn’t be concerned with the COPE bill, according to Terry Lane, a spokesman for Rep. Joe L. Barton, R-Texas, chief sponsor of the bill. Since the bill requires that 1 percent of cable providers’ revenues be devoted to public access funding everywhere they provide service, Mr. Lane said, some localities with no public access outlet will be guaranteed funds to start one.

“There’s a potential that this could actually increase funding for some (localities),” he said.

If the COPE Act becomes law, local governments would collect 6 percent of telecommunications providers’ annual revenues, of which one-sixth — 1 percent of providers’ revenues — would be guaranteed for public access. Local governments would have the option of using the rest of the funds for public access, Mr. Lane said.

“We looked at it nationally,” he said. “We think the 1 percent number is balanced and equitable.”

The centerpiece of the COPE bill, supporters say, could lower costs for cable, Internet and telephone users because multiple companies would be allowed to compete in a single locality. According to Mr. Lane, the bill’s backers expect competition to bring down rates.

But this issue should not be boiled down to cost, COPE critics say.

“It’s more than a consumer issue. It’s really a civic issue,” Mr. DePasquale said. “Is it really that important for me or someone else to watch ‘Desperate Housewives’ a little cheaper? Or is it more important to have an open forum for civic dialogue and a place for cities to mobilize and engage citizens?”

Public access stations allow citizens to produce local programs that commercial media may not otherwise produce.

Mr. DePasquale joined others at the Statehouse last Wednesday to speak out against the legislation in Congress. Similar “National Day of Out(r)age” protests were conducted in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and other cities.

According to David S. Isenberg, a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a diverse coalition has emerged to oppose the legislation because of the potentially far-reaching effects. Opponents of the legislation include liberal advocacy group, the Christian Coalition and financial service companies, among others. Worcester City Council passed a resolution last fall opposing an earlier version of the COPE bill.

Many opponents say they are focusing on provisions in the bill that could let Internet service providers charge Web sites in exchange for greater bandwidth, which would allow those sites that pay to load faster than others. This would end what many call “net neutrality.”

“Suppose your telephone company chose which blogs it would give you access to, or which newspapers, or block controversial content as a service to you,” Mr. Isenberg said. “We’re talking freedom of the press here and freedom of speech.”

The legislation comes 10 years after Congress passed the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which largely deregulated the telecommunications industry and allowed companies to expand to provide cable, Internet and telephone services. Major telecommunications companies, such as Verizon and AT&T, have pushed for passage.

St. Louis-based Charter, which provides cable, Internet and telephone service in much of Central Massachusetts, has not joined with Verizon and AT&T to push for the pending legislation, said Edward S. Goldstein, a vice president of government relations at Charter. It could be too early to tell what the legislation’s potential impact could be on Charter’s services, he added.

“If the lawmakers set this up fairly, that should be good for the consumer,” he said. “There’ll certainly be more choice: different packages of services, different customer service operations.”

Source URL: