Public access television
Learn more about Public access television
Public access television in the United States is a form of Citizen media, similar to Canada's Community channel, Australia's Community television and other models of media created by private citizens.
Due to the 1984 Cable Franchise Policy and Communications Act, US cable companies are required to fund local organizations to provide training and access to media technology and cable distribution on the local cable systems. This legislation was intended to enrich communities with the opportunity to produce community-initiated programming and address local issues and concerns on the electronic medium. In its conception, Public access television pertained only to the cable television technology of the times, but many Public access organizations now include television, radio and the internet within the spectrum of communications. Public access television is one type of PEG access, short for Public, Educational, and Governmental, the three traditional structures of access within a municpality.
In the United States, Public access is a result of the cable television industry. There was concern within communities as cities began contracting for cable TV service that companies were using public by-ways (such as roads and sidewalks to run cable wires) to make a profit and many advocates believed some form of 'rent' should be paid for their use. Cable companies at the time were greater in number and smaller in size and negotiating this arrangement was eventually confirmed by the FCC and US cable companies were then required to provide a percentage of revenue from the cable TV subscription fees to provide Public access to the cable systems.
In 1968 Rand said the Dale City (Virginia) Junior Chamber of Commerce maybe operated the first community-operated closed-circuit television channel in the United States, when Cable TV, Incorporated gave a channel to the Public access center, but poor financing, low-quality equipment and lack of a permanent studio may have contributed to the center's failure two years later.
According to Ralph Engelman's Origins of Public Access Cable Television 1966-1972, New York City's public access began in 1968 by Fred Friendly, a television advisor to the Ford Foundation and chairman of Mayor John Lindsay's advisory task force on CATV and Telecommunications, when he wrote a report recommending that cable companies set aside two channels the public could lease for a minor fee. The fee was opposed by others, and was later dropped. In July 1971 public access started.
From 1968 to 1970, Canadian filmmaker Red Burns, who'd served on the National Film Board of Canada (NFB)'s Challenge For Change and George C. Stoney, who'd likewise served a guest role, co-founded the Alternative Media Center (AMC) at NYU in 1971. AMC started the National Federation of Local Cable Programmers, which is a public access advocacy organization, with interns that help establish access centers throughout America. In 1972 Burns and Stoney worked with FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson to make the FCC cable access requirements.
The FCC issued its Third Report and Order in 1972, which required all cable systems in the top 100 U.S. television markets to provide three access channels, one each for educational, local government and public use, where if there was insufficient demand for three in a particular market, the cable companies could offer fewer channels, but at least one, and any group or individual wishing to use the channels was guaranteed at least five minutes free. Also required was for cable companies to provide facilities and equipment with which people could produce shows.
The rule was amended in 1976 to include cable systems in communities with 3500 or more subscribers, and the cable companies had no discretion, but Midwest Video Corporation sued the FCC on the grounds that it had overstepped its authority in requiring the access channels, and in 1979 The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Midwest.
The 1984 Cable Franchise Policy and Communications Act written by Senator Barry Goldwater, allowed local governments to require PEG channels, barred cable operators from exercising editorial control over content of programs carried on PEG channels, and absolved them from liability for that content.
Congress passed the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992, which gave the FCC authority to create rules requiring cable operators to prohibit certain shows. The Alliance for Community Media and others brought suit, and in 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court held the law unconstitutional, in part because it required cable operators to act on behalf of the federal government to control expression based on content.
Currently the Alliance for Community Media and others are focusing on operational challenges after new deregulation rules across Texas are directly threatening PEG access.
 Principles of PEG access
PEG access is a government mandate that provides television production equipment, training and airtime on a local cable system so members of the public, educational system, and the government can produce their own shows and televise them to a mass audience.
Municipalities must take initiative and petition the cable operator to provide the funding for PEG access as laid out by law, but municipalities may also choose to take no action and will instead keep the franchise fees in a general fund. A municipality may also choose to allow Governmental access but not Public access or may replace it with Governmental access or may take away Public access altogether, depending on the disposition of the local government or its voters.
Municipalities have a broad spectrum of franchise agreements (a government-granted monopoly) with cable television service providers. Depending on the size of the community and their contractual agreement the PEG and LO channels may take many forms. Large communities often have a separate organization for each PEG type, smaller communities may have a single organization that manages all three. Because each organization will develop its own policies and procedures, constituent services differ greatly between communities.
 Public access television channels
Public access television channels may be run by public grassroots groups or individuals, private non-profits or city organizations and policies and regulations are subject to their own ordinances and community standards.
Services available at Public access organizations are often low cost or free of charge, with an inclusive, content neutral, first-come, first-served, free speech ideology. Monies from cable franchise fees are hopefully used to operate the facilities, employ staff and trainers, develop curriculum, operate training workshops, schedule and maintain equipment, produce programming (live or pre-recorded), manage the cablecast of shows and publish promotion materials to build audiences. Funding and operating budgets vary significantly with the municipality's base cable subscriber volume so that organizations in densely populated areas may be able to offer different services than sparsely populated areas.
Users of Public access stations may participate at most levels of this structure to make content that is meaningful and reflective of their experience within their communities. Any member of a community may take advantage of public access. Users are not restricted to cable subscribers only. Many Public access channels carry primarily locally produced programs while others also carry regionally or nationally distributed programming. Public access centers are not necessarily bound to traditional one and one half hour block schedules, programs may be about 30 or 60 minutes but may also be of any length, depending on local organizational policies. In the event that a public access channel becomes filled up with programming a franchise may state that more channels may be added to suffice the demand.
It is also common in public access centers to sponsor programming that was produced outside of the municipality, often with a local resident or sponsor garnering the programming. Public access centers also may solicit programming that may be valuable to the community despite its origination point.
 Educational access television
Educational access is the institution set aside for fulfilling the needs of the educational departments and organizations within the municipality. Educational access channels may be associated with a specific school, school district(s) or even private organizations that are contracted to operate the access station for the city.
Educational access centers usually operate a cable channel on the local cable system and often include elements and principle that echo Public access in terms of training and resources. Many school media and video training programs are based in the Educational Access centers. Programming distributed by these centers ranges from student or parent produced media to coverage of local school functions and bodies (such as the School Council or Committee). There are a number of notable Educational access organizations that produce programming for a national audience and experiences a very broad distribution.
 Government access television
Government access television is a resource of the city to address local municipal programming needs. Often the city or town may use the G channel to cablecast city council meetings, election programming, local emergency announcements and other events and programs as valued by the local government.
 Local origination
Local origination is typically local programming produced by a cable operator. In contrast with Public access, which is government mandated access for programming, Local origination programming is usually programming of local interest produced by cable company employees or contractors for the cable company. A local high school graduation ceremony produced by cable studio employees and aired on a local cable channel is one such example.
 PEG technologies
Equipment available for public access broadcasting is evolving quickly. At its birth, the state-of-the-art PEG facilities were composed of racks full of analog tape decks and an automated video switching system. Recently, the low cost of digital production and distribution equipment, such as cameras, non-linear editing systems, digital video playback servers and new internet technologies have made digital content production the norm. The dropping cost of digital production and distribution gear has changed the way many PEG facilities operate.
 PEG challenges
PEG centers have come under fire from many angles including local governments and officials, local producers and viewers and even corporate litigations from potential copyright infringements. Special interest groups have also frequently applied pressure on local PEG operations.
PEG often struggles to balance freedom of speech with free, open access to the cable systems and as a result cable operators or PEG organizations have occasionally rightfully or wrongfully banned producers based on the impact of a specific program, or have removed programming from the schedule because it pushed the legal boundaries of pornography, sedition or slander.
Local governments are required to contract PEG work to city organizations or private non-profits and funding for these groups are often managed through the municipality. Franchise fees ultimately come from the local cable subscribers, paid to the city by the cable operator, and paid then to the PEG centers. Centers have been known to experience interruptions in contract negotiations by the local governments, late payment of contracted operating monies, or obstructive or restricting behavior from the municipalities in general.
PEG centers have also faced challenges from major marketshare cable giants who intend to squelch the single digit percentage of PEG funding that comes from their profit margins. As of 2006, Comcast, AT&T and Verizon are the largest marketshare companies in the United States and lobbied significant legislation through the US House of Representatives to reduce or end PEG funding.
Municipalities, local governments and even residents often confuse the difference between broadcast and cablecast television systems. PEG centers have been reported to the FCC about infractions that may apply to Broadcast television, even though Cable television content (including public access televsion) is not subject to the same rules. For example, Janet Jackson's appearance at the 2004 Super Bowl appeared on broadcast systems which spurred the FCC to threaten networks and their affiliates with additional fines for displaying indecency. Because cable television is a closed system with elective access there are fewer rules and restrictions about the same content.
PEG also faces technological challenges, often due to the poorly funded and stretched budget of their operation. Access centers are traditionally underfunded and understaffed and give rise to numerous complaints. Complaints range from the poor production quality of scheduled programming, poor scheduling and playback, programming playing late or not at all, or signal strength being so weak that the program becomes unviewable.
 Future of PEG access
The cable television cottage industry of the 1960's no longer exists. Since the mid 1980's, large marketshare cable television providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T collect billions of dollars across many states using public by-ways for cable, telephone and internet infrastructure each year. As cable television technology evolves and is replaced by digital media technology, and Congress and lobby groups struggle to redefine policy, public access organizations nationwide stand to lose massive percentages of operating budget. Public access television is dependent upon revenue from cable television services, should cable television disappear from the marketplace then one of the few institutions that supports Citizen media may vanish with it.
Public access organizations remain in service in their municipalities and continue to serve their missions of empowering communities and facilitating resident communication on a local level. In a changing technology industry, many PEG organizations began investing in training and technology to distribute media in all new ways using the internet. In 2005, the consumer media market became flooded with blogs, vlogs, RSS syndication and aggregation, iPod and cell phone media, and countless new methods for distributing information and ideas. As cable television phases out in lieu of a new technology, many access centers adapted these new technologies in order to continue servering their missions and goals within their own constituency.
Many media reform and watchdog organizations have been formed to monitor and report on national and global media policy. Free Press, among others, has been identified as respected source.
 Public access in everyday life
The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is not Public access television and has no official connection with PEG. PBS is funded partly by government and tax resources, and partly by private grants and contributions. PEG is funded by cable television companies through subscription fees, and also by private grants and contributions. PBS does not regularly provide free use of facilities to produce programming.
Nevertheless, a PBS program called Mental Engineering started at the Public access channel of Saint Paul, Minnesota, was picked up by KTCA, and had an episode broadcast across the U.S. after Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002.
In the book How to Talk Back to Your Television Set, Nicholas Johnson, FCC commissioner, 1966-1973, in part discusses prototype Public access.
The Philo Awards named after Philo Farnsworth is an annual Public access television competition where the winners receive notice for their efforts in various categories in producing community media.
 See also
- Citizen media
- Community channel in Canada
- Community television in Australia
- Community Technology Center
- Guerrilla television
 External links
 Public access organizations
In alphabetical order by state:
- AR Community Access Television CAT TV, Channel 18, Fayetteville, Arkansas
- CA CommunityTV.org Community Television of Santa Cruz County, CA
- CA Community Media Center Community Media Center of Santa Rosa, CA
- CA Access Healdsburg Community TV for Northern Sonoma County, CA
- DC Public Access Corporation of the District of Columbia, Channels 10, 11, 95 and 96 in Washington, DC
- FL Tampa Bay Community Network Channels 19 and 20 on BHN Cable and Channels 30 and 36 on Verizon Cable, Tampa, FL
- ID Treasure Valley Community Television Cable Channels 11 & 98, Boise, ID
- ID Pocatello Vision 12 Cable Channels 11 & 12, Pocatello, ID
- IL Comcast Public Access Serving the suburbs of Chicago, IL
- IL CAN TV Chicago Access Network Television
- IN Sigecom cable offers Public access television, and educational content both on the same Channel 9, Evansville, IN & Newburg, IN
- IN Insight cable offers Public access television and Vincennes, IN government meetings on the same Channel 7, Evansville, IN
- MA M8 and WMCTMarlborough Cable Trust and M8
- MA Amherst Community Television, Amherst, MA
- MA Falmouth Community Television, Falmouth, MA
- MA Lynn Community Access + Media Television
- MA Medford Community Access Television
- MA Quincy Access Television, Quincy, MA
- MA Randolph Community Television - RCTV, Randolph, MA
- MA WCCA TV 13 Public Access Media Center in Worcester, MA
- MA Cambridge Community Television, public access media center in Cambridge, MA
- MA Plymouth Area Community Television, public access media center in Plymouth, MA
- MA East Bridgewater Community Television, Public Access Channels 9 & 98 in East Bridgewater, MA
- MA Lowell Telecommunications Corporation, Community Media and Technology Center serving the diverse urban population of Lowell, MA
- MA Brookline Access Television (BATV) Keeping the public informed with a variety of programming locally and from other access centers.
- ME Boothbay Region Community Television TV Starring You!
- MI Clarkston Public Access Center CPAC CTV10 - This Is Your Access To Clarkston Clarkston, MI
- MN CTV15 Public access for the inner north suburbs of the Twin Cities
- MN North Metro 15 Public access for the outer north suburbs of the Twin Cities
- NH Cheshire TV on Channel 8 in Keene, Marlborough and Swanzey.
- NH Valley Vision quality community access in the Mount Washington Valley
- NC The Peoples Channel, public-access station in Chapel Hill, NC
- ND Community Access Television, cable Channel 12 in Bismarck, ND
- NY Bronxnet, a group of public-access channels in the Bronx, located at Lehman College
- NY BCAT - Brooklyn Community Access Television, several public-access channels in Brooklyn, NY
- NY QPTV - Queens Public Television, Public access Channels 34,35,56 & 57 in Queens, NY
- NY MNN - Manhattan Neighborhood Network, Public access Channels TW 34 / RCN 83 TW 56 / RCN 84 TW 57 / RCN 85 TW 67 / RCN 86 in New York, NY
- OR Portland Community Media Channels 11, 21, 23, & 30 in Portland, OR
- OH Hudson Cable Television Channels 9 & 25 in Hudson, OH
- RI PATV18 - COX Communications Public Access, Public access Channel 18 in greater Rhode Island
- TX Austin PACT Channels 10,11, & 16 in Austin, TX
- VA Arlington Independent Media, Channel 69 in Arlington County, Virginia
- VA Blacksburg Community Access, WTOB Channel 2 serving Blacksburg, VA, home of Virginia Tech
- VA Fairfax Public Access Channels 10, 30 and 37 in Fairfax County, Virginia
- VA Falls Church Community Television, PEG station serving Falls Church, VA, a suburb of Washington DC
- WA SCAN Seattle Community Access Network
- WA PSA Kent Puget Sound Access
- WI Chippewa Valley Community Television(CTV) Public access Channels 11 & 12 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin
 Educational Access Organizations
- MA Falmouth Public Schools Educational Access TV-14 in Falmouth, MA
- NH Salem Educational Access Television since 1971 in Salem, NH
- WV Lewis County Education Access Channel(WTGN) Weston, West Virginia WTGN Channel 20 on the Rapid Cable system.
 Governmental access organizations
 Local origination organizations
Awaiting further contributions.
 External PEG access links
- The Alliance for Community Media, a national organization of PEG centers, is committed to assuring everyone's access to electronic media through public education, a progressive legislative and regulatory agenda, coalition building and grassroots organizing.
- Free Press
- Bill Olson's History of Public Access
- Better Business Bureau The BBB may alert you to complaints against cable companies in your area and may possibly mediate with possible "PEG challenges."
- Public Access TV weblog that also has information on possible ways to deal with possible "PEG challenges."
- Five Faves is a Governmental Access show done by volunteer producers on Wilmette Government Television (WCTV) spotlighting favorite things about the local community. Government access Channel 6 in Wilmette, Illinois
- UnAccess.com Provides open discussion regarding active litigation and related "Public access" legal issues.
- The Global Village CAT, which contains worldwide links to 600 Community & Public access television sites
- Douglas Kellner's history of Public Access at the Museum of Broadcast Communications
- Princeton Server Group 
- The Happy Show is an example of a Public access television show done by Matt Hawes in Evansville, Indiana and aired on Sigecom Channel 9, and Insight Communications Channel 7.
- 411 Show, formerly on Public access television, is now a San Antonio, TX based psuedo-Public access talk show that usually features 9-19 year old talent and is active in the access efforts across the country, which in part focuses on operational challenges after new deregulation rules across Texas ended PEG access there.
- Save Cable Access PSA about the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006 (COPE Act HR 5252) and network neutrality that affects the internet and public television. Part of the saveaccess.org movement.
- Boston Neighborhood Producer's Group "Keeping the Public in Public Access"
- Full Text of The Bill at Public Access.Orgde:Offener Kanal