The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to adopt rules in August that will limit the benefits that communities get in return for corporate use of public property – a move that will cost communities millions of dollars in hidden fees to cable companies and opens the door to further action that may defund community access television in the future.
So far 15 US Senators, 27 US Representatives and thousands of public commentators have opposed the new regulations on cable television franchising on which the Commission is set to vote Aug. 1.
Under laws set up by Congress, communities are allowed to charge rent or “franchise fees” for the use of public property and rights-of-way. Congress capped that rent at 5 percent of gross revenues on cable bills.
Now the FCC is proposing to expand the definitions of franchise fees – to include non-monetary support for local communities and Public, Educational and Government Access television – even though Congress intended those fees be only monetary payments.
The proposed rules would allow cable companies to assign market values to these benefits and then charge the amount back to local communities in most cases. Benefits include items like free cable subscriptions to schools, discounts for the elderly, and fiber connectivity to local government buildings like police departments, fire stations and libraries.
Will the rules mean reduced cable bills? Since the FCC doesn’t regulate prices and has prevented local authorities from doing so, the answer is no. So, consumers may see less local content, local communities will see their budgets shrink, and some of the most hated companies in America will be able to pocket the additional proceeds.
The Alliance for Community Media opposes the proposed rules and is asking the FCC to modify them to lessen the harm to local communities and to access television in America.
We also ask members of Congress to oppose the rules. Members of the public can sign a petition asking Congress to take action here: tinyurl.com/Save PEG
The Alliance for Community Media is a national organization representing Public, Educational and Government Access TV channels across the United States. More information is available at www.allcommunitymedia.org.