Middlebury seeks help in saving MCTV funding

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard has asked for the Vermont Congressional delegation’s support in halting the Federal Communications Commission’s effort to defund Public, Educational, Government (PEG) access television.
As reported by the Independent in January, the FCC is pitching a new rule that could significantly affect local cable access stations’ revenues to a point where some might have to pare back services significantly, or even close down.
The 1984 Cable Act called upon cable operators to extend in-kind services that have included complementary cable and Internet access to schools, libraries, and municipal buildings; the backhaul of television signals to go live from remote locations; access to an interactive programming guide; and channel capacity.
But the FCC is now considering a rule change that would allow cable corporations — such as Comcast in Vermont — to redefine, and place a value on, those in-kind cable franchise obligations. The result, local access station operators fear, would be a new era in which cable companies would be able to establish their own estimates for these in-kind services and expense them back to local access organizations to count against their franchise fee. This would mean less revenue for local access staff and programming.
Local stations that would be affected by the new funding rule include Middlebury Community Television (MCTV) and Northeast Addison Television (NEAT) in Bristol. MCTV’s annual budget is around $150,000; NEAT’s is approximately $78,000.
The selectboard on April 23 drafted a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and U.S. House Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. that in part reads:
“We write to request your support in halting FCC efforts to defund PEG access television. As you know, the FCC is proposing to redefine what a franchise fee is — and it will radically reduce the level of financial support available to run PEG access channels across the United States. PEG access channels perform a critical role in providing government coverage that promotes transparency, so citizens can be fully informed regarding local government actions — something vital to the health of democracy.
“Congress should stop the FCC from trying to re-write the 1984 Cable Act to financially starve local communities and our PEG channels in its rule-making (Docket NR 05-311),” the letter from the selectboard stated.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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