Friday, December 30, 2005

The Problem with Public Access Television - Part 1

The 411 Show - I received a call from Lisa Sorg, the editor of Current Magazine in San Antonio. She left a message that she wanted to know how the possible pulling of the public access channel 20 in San Antonio would affect me and the show that I produce. That was the first I had heard of it and
I took a big gasp as I heard her message. What the hell was going on? I was in the middle of a class with Michael Verdi at Node101 (video blogging classes) and decided to wait until after class to return her call. By that time I had received another call from someone at Time Warner ( I will not reveal their name), wanting to check if I had heard the news yet and wanting to fill me in. That was the beginning of a very long week. I was dumbfounded by the news. As I checked further, it turns out that the Cable companies had sneaked in a bill thru the Texas State legislature during the summer during a special session that was suppose to change school financing inTexas.

Apparently the bill, Senate Bill 5, passed thru the legislature after only 10 minutes of debate, which means they probably didn't even read it (the bill is 80 pages) and basically cut off Public Access Television at the pass. And worse the cable companies are trying to do the same in other states across the country, with little notice from the paying public. Because of this bill, the cable companies are no longer responsible for public access programming, and only need to provide the channel. Previously they were providing the studio, equipment and staff assistance to produce shows. Now the Cities are responsible for that. That means that cities are now in the broadcasting business. They now are responsible for the production, equipment and airing of the shows for the Education, Government and Public Access (PEG for short) channels. And it gets worse. Time Warner filed a lawsuit in Texas challenging the 1% they are suppose to turn over to the city to fund this, so now the city doesn't have any of the funds to do this either, and it would
have to come out of the general fund of the city. We are talking millions. So for now, we are in wait and see mode, to see what happens on January 1, 2006. All the channels may go black for who knows how long. All of us as citizens should be outraged at our legislatures to let this happen. The cable companies have basically flicked us off as if we were a mere mosquito bothering them, instead of their paying customers. The Public Access Producers in San Antonio went to the last City Council meeting of the year on Dec 15, 2005, to voice our concerns. We were told to be there at 1:00 pm. After waiting for all the end of year business by the city, such as annexations and grants/bonds etc. (the city gave away about 3 million of the city's funds within a matter of hours), and after the "ceremonials" (awards/recognitions) were given out. After 6 hours of waiting for our turn to speak and at about 7:00 in the evening we had our chance to speak to a expressionless, mute and apparently disinterested City Council. (they had a christmas party to go to) By that time we were all seething. Producers lined up to voice their concerns, many with anger in their voices. However after about 45 minutes, the City Council cut everyone off and did not hear the rest of the Producers. The City then tabled the issue until the next City Council meeting, on Jan 12, 2006. Meanwhile the channels will not be broadcasting anything.

So why should people outside of Texas be concerned? Because this is the model the cable companies want to use for the whole nation. At least 3 states are now under this model. They (cable companies) do not want to have to deal with individual cities and want to negotiate agreements at the state level, and in the process the Public Access Channels are being decimated (destroyed). Your state is probably next on the list. So the chaos that is happening in San Antonio for the Public Access TV Channels may soon come to a TV screen near you. The public airwaves should be there to serve the public, not the media companies. Never forget that.

For more background info check out the article in San Antonio Current Magazine. ********

Other article "Fade to Black" in San Antonio Current can be linked to from above article.

To read an article about The 411 Show in San Antonio Current Magazine from 2004, click on this link:

Produced by 411 Productions

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