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MA: City Council Asked to Protect Public Access Channel

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Created 02/06/2007 - 8:40am

from: Worcester Telegram & Gazette [1]

City Council Asked to Protect Public Access Channel

From Worcester Telegram & Gazette, February 1, 2007
By Nick Kotsopoulos

More than 100 supporters of WCCA-TV, Channel 13, the nonprofit, local public access cable channel, last night urged the City Council Public Service and Transportation Committee to ensure that the station’s funding is not decreased as part of the new cable television contract the city negotiates with Charter Communications Inc.

They also lobbied for an additional public access channel, as well as a regional public access channel for Central Massachusetts, with WCCA serving as its base.

Mauro DePasquale, executive director of WCCA, pressed the committee for assurances that the station will continue receiving at least the same level of funding (about $650,000 annually) as under the old contract.

Ideally, Mr. DePasquale said, WCCA would like to see its funding increased under the new cable contract so the station can replace antiquated equipment and be able to meet the growing demand for more programming.

He also sharply criticized a report issued late last year by The Research Bureau, which advocated a major funding cut for WCCA, amounting to roughly two-thirds of the funding it now receives. He argued that many of the facts the research bureau based its findings on were misleading and riddled with errors.

Under the old contract, which was recently extended another six months to provide more time for the contract negotiations, Charter pays the city a franchise fee of $1.1 million, which is allocated among three public access channels: the city’s education channel, the government channel and WCCA.

“WCCA is a model public access channel,” Mr. DePasquale said. “We need to have a contract in place because without a new long-term agreement, it puts us in a tough spot. WCCA stands as a beacon of inclusion and advocacy. It is a success story that belongs to everyone.”

Ronal C. Madnick, director of the Worcester County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said WCCA not only produces local programming but also trains a great number of people in television production and computer technology.

In addition, he said, the station serves as a much-needed voice of the people.

“The rich and powerful can always have their voice heard, but there are very few ways for the general public to be heard,” Mr. Madnick said. “WCCA is one way for them to be heard. The more voices we have being heard in this community, the better.”

In total, 19 people testified on behalf of WCCA. The three-member committee asked for a report from the city manager concerning efforts to maintain or improve funding for local public access.

Councilor-at-Large Joseph M. Petty, committee chairman, said while the City Council is not directly involved in the cable contract negotiations, it intends to let City Manager Michael V. O’Brien know how much it wants to at least maintain current funding levels for public access.

“Channel 13 does a good job and I don’t see it going away,” Mr. Petty said. “The station provides a community service and we need to see how we can help Channel 13 to improve even more.”

Councilors-at-Large Gary Rosen and Kathleen M. Toomey echoed that sentiment, saying they would strongly oppose any reduction in WCCA’s funding. They also both praised the wide spectrum of programming offered by Channel 13.

“It’s money well spent,” Mr. Rosen said. “We will encourage the city manager to make sure that WCCA is not hit with any funding cuts in our new contract.”

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