Budget shortfalls are plaguing public, education and government (PEG) channels across the nation, causing some PEG channels to shut their doors by the end of the year. However, some of these closures could be avoided.
The Cable Communications Act of 1984 (P.L. 98-549) prohibits the use of capital expenditure funds to cover day-to-day operations of PEG channels. The irony of that is if the PEG channels that really need that money have to close because they could not access their capital expenditure funds, there will not be anything to spend the capital expenditure money on.
While having such a fund is a good idea, the fact is there is only so much construction and building a PEG channel can do.
Because PEG channels are starting to close due to a lack of funding when funds are already available, on May 5, 2011, two members of the House of Representatives crossed the aisle to produce a potential fix. Reps. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, introduced the proposed Community Access Preservation Act (H.R. 1746) which seeks to remove the distinction between “capital” and “operating” funds from the Telecommunications Act, allowing PEG channels to use those funds for day-to-day operations. The bill does not propose a new appropriation; rather it directs a new use for money that is already available.
In addition, the bill would ensure that local governments secure funding for PEG channels—and be supplied with up to three PEG channels—in exchange for cable operator’s use of public rights-of-way.
While that all sounds reasonable and H.R. 1746 has the sponsorship of members from both parties, on May 6 the bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology where it now languishes like the PEG channels’ capital expenditure funds. Democratic House staffers say the reason the bill has not moved is that, despite the proposals bi-partisan sponsorship, the Republican leadership is keeping it from getting a hearing—much less a vote—because bills sponsored by Democrats are being allowed to die.
This is strange because lawmakers from both parties are producing seven to eight minute videos at a production facility on Capitol Hill and supplying them to access channels in their home states to broadcast messages to their constituents. It is not likely that local network affiliates, independent stations or even public broadcasting stations will provide the lawmakers with that much airtime.
By making lawmakers’ message directly available to the constituents, public access stations are supporting democracy, but that takes money.