By now, everyone is aware that Comcast is seeking to buy Time Warner Cable. However, not everyone understands what the cable landscape will look like soon after.
Once acquired, Comcast will sell off significant parts of its systems to Charter, and Comcast’s shareholders will own a large share of Charter. Simultaneously, Charter and Comcast will form Midwest Cable, with Comcast’s shareholders, including the Robert’s Family Trust, having a significant share of that company.
What is different about these transactions is that Comcast owns a lot of content, and that content will be potentially pushed out to subscribers via Charter and Midwest Cable, as well as through Comcast systems and the systems acquired from Time Warner.
In this environment, with one company controlling so much subscribership and content, PEG access television becomes all that much more important. PEG access television stands completely apart, because federal law ensured that cable operators could not control the content on PEG and federal law ensured that local communities could require PEG channels as part of their franchise agreements.
Although we’ve had 22 state laws that have damaged PEG in some fashion or another (to include the loss of PEG funding in 11 states), PEG has not yet completely disappeared. We stand as testament to good public policy.
Why is it good public policy to have PEG access television? Because we are the one place in TV land where our content is not subject to the vagaries of who owns the pipeline. We can create content as our communities see fit, without limitations, without answering to influence peddlers, corporate greed or commercial interests.
INFORMATIVE, NOT SEXY
PEG access is not sexy by any stretch of the imagination, but it is informative. Want to know what your city or county council is doing? Put your feet up and tune in. Need to understand the new school district boundaries? Put your feet up and tune in. Really support the local Red Cross? Put your feet up and tune in. Like that guy with those political opinions or that particular church down the street? Put your feet up and tune in.
Certainly there are degrees to which you will see this programming, because it is all community dependent. PEG operators strive to serve the interests of their local community and for many PEG operations, funding is a constant issue.
More than one-third of PEG entities are struggling to program a channel 24 hours-7 days a week on less than $200,000 per year. I challenge anybody to give that a go and not have repeat programming or at least some time spent on bulletin boards.
We are living in an era that is so information rich, and yet we see a frightening loss of information sources. How many newspapers have closed over the last few years? How much consolidation has taken place in the radio world? And now, in the cable industry we are seeing heady transactions that not only threaten a variety of content, but threaten the speed at which we will receive any content at all.
So, while in the grandiose world of television PEG access has been treated like the crazy aunt in the basement, PEG stands unique in what it delivers to the community and frankly, to our democracy. Get to know us and then you’ll understand why PEG access television matters more now than ever.
My guess is, you’ll even come to love us.
Bunnie Riedel is the executive director for American Community Television, an organization that promotes PEG and access TV. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.