Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have introduced a bill, the Community Access Preservation (CAP) Act, that would bolster public educational and government access channels as "budgets tighten" and delivery models change.
Markey and Baldwin argue the channels are necessary to preserve diverse voices in a time of media consolidation. The bill is also a way to address state video franchising laws that have "devastated" PEG funding. They point out that in six states, including Baldwin's home state, all funding for PEG channels has been cut. The FCC also ruled in 2007, under then chairman Kevin Martin, that PEG fees could only be used for equipment and facilities, not operating expenses.
The CAP Act would amend the Cable Act of 1992 to say that those franchise fees can be used for any purpose, including salaries. It also "reaffirms" that cable operators have to deliver PEG channels at no additional cost to subs, that they have the same quality and accessibility and functionality as local TV stations, and that cable operators continue to support PEG with bucks as well as channels, up to 2% of gross revenue or their historical support, whichever is more.
"The CAP Act costs nothing, will address the severe challenges faced by PEG access channels and local community media, and will save thousands of jobs across the country," the legislators said.
American Community Television has been fighting for PEG channels, including being able to find them as easily as other channels. One long-standing complaint is over multiple channels collected under a single channel labeled "local programing" or "local origination" and only accessible via a sub-menu that may not identify individual programs and thus make it hard to find or record them.
"ACT has been working with these offices and many others to create a solution that will reverse the harm done to PEG access television," said John Rocco, President of American Community Television. "The CAP Act is critical to the survival of these important local television channels. We are already losing channels and could lose many more if we don't restore the intent of the Cable Act."
PEG channels are not mandated by law. Rather, they are a right the law gives to franchise authorities.