Local governments withhold public access TV funds

It seems like Chapel Hill and Orange County are giving our local public access provider quite the run around, when they should be giving them money! The programming on The Peoples Channel includes a wide variety of creative output and civic endeavors by local residents, plus they also carry the essential Democracy Now! If you don't find what you want on channel 8, you can march right in to the station, get low-cost training, and fill that gap. This nonprofit TV station is a tremendous asset to our community, and it deserves to be fully funded by our local governments.

Both Chapel Hill and Orange County received money for Chapel Hill channel 8, on which The People's Channel broadcasts.

Yet neither government has passed that money on to The People's Channel. The law says local governments must spend the supplemental money on PEG channels, but it doesn't specify which channels.

Chapel Hill spokesperson Catherine Lazorko says the town manager and town council have yet to decide how to distribute PEG funding. Chapel Hill operates its own government channel, 18, which broadcasts public meetings.

Orange County, which certified a total of three PEG channels, decided to spend all $29,400 of its supplemental PEG funding on its own government channel, 265, which broadcasts county commissioners meetings. The annual budget for Channel 265 is approximately $40,000.

- Independent Weekly: Legislature to consider future of public TV channels, 5/7/08

If you read the article you'll see this is especially cruel since Chad Johnston, who runs TPC, helped lobby for this legislation and is very familiar with it's provisions. He expected this law to provide much-needed stability to the channel, but instead Chapel Hill and Orange County have pulled the rug out from under him!

It's amazing what a meager budget The Peoples Channel asks for (they operate on $160,000/year). Let's show how much we value community media by giving a little of the direct financial support that our elected officials ought to be providing. Use the widget below to donate now:

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Issues: 

Total votes: 160

Comments

I am very disappointed in the position Town of Chapel Hill Staff and Orange County Staff have taken in this situation. As Fiona's article pointed out the law governing the funds distributed by the state is up to interpretation. But for the County Assistant Manager and Manager to hide behind a legal opinion that they support to retain funds purposely earmarked by the State for a local non-profit is disgusting!

I wish this were a case of unemotional bean counting in a disconnected bureaucracy. But it just doesn't seem so. I look forward to more information coming to light on the attitude our public servants have had when dealing with our fellow citizens. If they treated other nonprofits with more loud public voices this way I think Council, Commissioners, and citizens would be publicly outraged.

Please consider donating to The Peoples' Channel, taking a course to learn how to shoot and edit your own video at TPC, and asking your local representatives WHY our Staff members act this way.

With its television programming and with television and multimedia workshops open to the public at nominal cost, TPC provides a wonderful public service. Shame on local officials if it is true that they are not providing adequate funds for this important public resource.

Tom Linden

What percentage of TPC's budget traditionally comes from the county & city?

TPC receives most of its funding from Town of Chapel Hill home cable subscribers. Each individual cable sub should have an 80 cent charge on their bill which is passed through the Town to us. Annually, it comes out to about $120,000. Orange County has never financially supported TPC. They contract with the organization to tape their County Commissioners meetings and update their new Government Access channel.

This is a very complicated issue and the new legislation is very poorly written. Though municipalities have to spend this money on Public, Educational, and Government Access, they don’t have to give any to us. One of the problematic issues for us is that both the Town and the County would have received much less money if we didn’t exist or rather, if they didn’t certify us to the state.

Please let me know if you have any other questions…!

Chad Johnston – Executive Director

The Peoples Channel

Sad

One of the problematic issues for us is that both the Town and the County would have received much less money if we didn’t exist or rather, if they didn’t certify us to the state.
This part just makes me sad... Why use a local non-profit this way?

Shame, Shame, Shame on the Town and County.Public Access is what this community stands for. Thank you, Chad and Jeremy for doing a great job! 

 

“Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained.” Helen Keller

Chad, Thanks for the reply. Sounds like a real legislative mess you're dealing with there. Best of luck to you. -Jeff

Chad, back in 1996, when we negotiated the new Time-Warner franchise, we made the decision to fund TPC, with the local subcriber fee which was then about 63 cents per month.  We also funded the town-hall studio, hardware and people, to do telecasts of town council and similar meetings, e.g., school board, OWASA out of the town general fund.  Time Warner didn't seem to care how we spent the money, for it was an add-on to customers' bills, which they collected and passed, unchanged to the town.  We had two concerns, the first that there might not be enough original local programming, rather than just lots of video tapes from outside the area.  The second concern, based on experience of other local access channels, was that the bulk of the programming would be religious.  Neither of these problems occurred, and I thought that TPC was an asset to the town.  That was confirmed every year when almost no one ever objected to the local access fee or its (typically one penny) annual increase.

 What exactly has changed?  Did the law then allow us to not have a TPC but we simply chose to fund it, or was the law different then?

 

We had another interesting concern back then; that Time-Warner wanted to use a lot of the bandwidth for telephone service, not television service.  It became obvious that they wanted to be a locally-regulated phone company rather than a phone company regulated by the state.  Evidentially there is more money to be made in telephone service than in television service, especially if the regulation of it can be limited to a local government who, quite frankly, understands little about the issue.  Time-Warner is now boldly in the phone business, and I believe that this issue is tied up in whether they can be forced to sell the use of their in-town wires to other communications companies.  Obviously we need someone who knows what he is doing to provide some unbiased information here.

 

It is truly a sad day when local citizens cannot rely on their government to do what it says it's going to do. Local officials, please give that money back to the People's Channel. We need to make sure that this outlet continues to exist for citizens.

TPC is in desperate need of an upgrade on equipment and facilities to help better provide their incredibly valuable service to our community. It turns my stomach to think that the local government has its own "interpretation" of the law mentioned above & feels that it should hold onto the money which should be distributed among the Public Access, the Educational, & the Government channels. Share the wealth & help the citizenry share their voice in the media.

Chad--if TPC didn't exist how would the government access channel be managed and the meetings broadcast? The real question is how much it would cost the local governments in your absence. It seems to me that you are providing technical expertise and equipment that they benefit from, far in excess of their financial contribution.

Okay…going to try and be concise, but again, these issues are complicated…

Joe said “Time Warner didn't seem to care how we spent the money, for it was an add-on to customers' bills, which they collected and passed, unchanged to the town.”

That is an agreement under the local franchise. In that agreement, TWC is required to collect the Public Access fee and pass it through to the Town.

That agreement will be in existence until it expires (2016 I believe) or until a new provider (AT&T) passes one home with cable TV service anywhere in Chapel Hill. At that time, TWC will move to a statewide franchise and we will no longer have the Public Access Fee on Town resident’s cable bill. TPC will then have to rely on the funds given to Chapel Hill earmarked for PEG channels. In all likelihood, the local agreement will last another year or so based on what we know about AT&T’s plans…but that is conjecture and not fact…

Point being, the $160,000 that Chapel Hill has received so far is money from the state and must be spent on PEG. A large portion of those funds are meant to replace our subscriber fees when the local franchise expires. In the meantime…who knows. I will say though, it’s pretty darn difficult run a TV station, community center, public internet lab, and to teach courses, do effective outreach, and fundraise in any significant manner with $160,000 budget. We are not like most nonprofits…I would say that only %15 of our gear would be considered new. Most everything is at least 5 years old or second hand. We will be releasing our satisfaction survey this week, and the data clearly shows that people using TPC need/want technologically relevant equipment.

In regards to Terri’s question…

TPC does not run or do anything for the Chapel Hill Government Access channel 18. We do have a contract with Orange County to cover their meetings and to update, schedule and monitor their channel 265.

Please…I love to try and explain this mess to people…Let me know what else you need clarity on! I have put a document I use to explain the situation in Chapel Hill on our web site as a PDF if you’re interested! http://thepeopleschannel.org/aboutus.htm Very bottom of the page!

Hmm...

 

Chad I am glad you are here to lobby for one of the few remaining opportunities that a common citizen has to publicly voice their opinion.

 

What makes public access so awesome is it gives individuals who may not have the money to practice their ammendment rights in regards to free speech.

 

The way I understand it... public access was or is necessary by law simply because Television stations and networks use the air over privately owned air space (peoples homes) to broadcast..? Rather than ask permission from everyone they simply decided to provide us (the people) with the means to not only learn but operate and produce useful, insightful and entertaining programming...

 

Unfortunately public access is one of the last places that one can recieve information that isn't simply trying to pedal to ones ego and pursuade one to purchase something. TV today if it isn't loaded with ad-nausea the host or program operator is afraid to speak freely due to fear of losing advertising dollars...

 

People are given information that is controlled by large dollar corporations bent on pushing their products...

 

I pray that people will speak up for one of the last outlets they have available to speak up...

 

Peace and blessings~

"one of the few remaining opportunities that a common citizen has to publicly voice their opinion"

Other than through anonymous postings on OP?

There's certainly a good bit of irony in your posting. I think a very strong case can be made for the opinion that at no point in human history have "common citizens" had more outlets for speaking up than they do today, with or without public access television. If anything, the mainstream media, the alternative media, and the internet have become dominated by the uninformed and unaccountable opinions we common citizens all cherish and love to offer up!

It simply sounds to me like TPC is being used by the city and the county to raise funds while also being prevented from benefitting from those funds. That is unfair and unethical. Furthermore, so long as a diverse array of public access television is providing a value to the community that exceeds its cost, I believe it wise for our civic institutions to continue to support it. But to justify it using the kind of language you chose is downright silly when one considers the nearly unlimited ways that individuals in our society may voice their opinions.

One of the things that is special about The Peoples' Channel are the courses they offer. You can learn how to use audio and video technology to become better story tellers with the moving image. At very modest rates I might add. No where else is this available to the general public.

Software and hardware to produce video and share it online is becoming easier to use and obtain. But the basic skills for telling stories, reporting the news, and documenting our lives is still challenging to learn. In the 21st century we need our local governments to realize how important this is to its citizens and support them through funding media education. In the case described above it isn't a matter of using local tax money but passing along money already set aside.

Brian,

I couldn't agree more with the importance of providing skills education in this area and second your sentiments about the value of having a place like TPC where individuals can get this kind of training. However, how is this not funded via tax dollars but rather from "money already set aside"? Isn't that money already set aside from tax dollars?

I mean that the money we are talking about isn't Town of Chapel Hill tax money. Thus no extra burden on local tax payers. But money that the State of North Carolina received from Time Warner Cable & others as part of their State wide Cable franchise as governed by the Video Service Competition Act. (link to state law info) I hope Chad will correct me if I'm wrong about the ultimate source of this money.

Here is another article by Fiona Morgan called Changing channels: What does a state cable franchise mean for TV watchers?

Ah...I see what you're getting at. It is still tax money, however, as consumers have no option but to pay the fees and taxes mandated by the state via their cable bill, if I'm understanding things correctly. I'm assuming that TWC is not funding PEG out of goodwill here, but out of state mandates passed on to the consumer.

The money in question here is coming from cable, satellite and and telecom providers. It is not paid by consumers here in Chapel Hill or anywhere. It is small amounts of money collected via a new state telecommunications sales tax, and honestly, it ought to be more! Time Warner is making MILLIONS due to this new legislation...

I would also like to point out a couple of things...

1. The internet is still used by primarily white middle class folk, at least says Pew. Also, if you look at what people are doing on the internet, much of it is still consuming, not producing.

2. What's the difference between You Tube and The Peoples Channel? You Tube will never advocate for you or educate you.

3. Dispite the amount of ways people can use online tools to communicate, TV is still the dominate mode for consuming information in this country.

Thank you all for your concerns, thoughts, and wishes.

Chad

Chad,

Thanks for the information. If that money is coming from providers, then that money is coming from consumers. I can't really say that I have an opinion on the "it ought to be more" comment vis a vis PEG funding, as I'm not sure if it should be more, less, or the same. The amount of money that PEG providers receive should be a function of the value they provide to the community, not a function of Time Warner or anyone else's revenues, costs or profits. I certainly feel there is a value being provided by TPC to the community -- I simply have no idea how much of a value that is and am in no position to even take a guess at it.

I definitely agree that the internet is still out of reach to too many of our neighbors. But that's not a situation that will last for long. I would expect internet pervasiveness to be on par with television in the next decade or so. And while most people on the internet consume instead of produce, the exact same is true of television -- only to a greater extent! And I also disagree with your comments regarding youtube's advocacy or educational value. Youtube is a platform, just like cable television. The level of advocacy or education that comes over those platforms is in the hands of those who produce for it. And both mediums have productions both shallow and deep. The nice thing about PEG in relation to youtube is that it provides a standardized, easy to find collection of content related to our community.

I really appreciate all the information you've provided here and wish you the best of luck in getting a fair shake from the town and county governments. It's very sad to see an organization like TPC being taken advantage of. Per the advice of another poster here, I will certainly make it known to the decision makers involved that I feel the town should be distributing money based on the same principles upon which it is collecting money.

I think the problem here is trying to put a commercial value on something that is, as we feel, part of our inalienable rights. How can you put a price tag on providing citizens of your community the right to collect, produce and air issues and topics they feel are relevant to their community? It's very troubling that TPC exists as one of the last truly 'free' mediums of communication that is completely owned by the community they serve... and yet they are not even given the funding they need to operate adequately.

It's probably wise not to attempt to put a dollar value on the quality or importance that TPC plays in our communities. I'd guess that it would surprise us all, if we even tried.

Brian is right--our local government is one of our last remaining allies. If we cannot, as citizens, rely on them, what next?

I'm not sure I understand the points you're making here. Obviously this is not an inalienable right -- were it actually inalienable this issue would not exist. Furthermore, it's obvious there is a price tag associated with it as Chad has to pay for equipment, administration, and staff to make it happen for all of us based either on our tax dollars, cable fees, or donations. That money extends from people's willingness to institute those taxes, suffer those fees, or offer those donations. And the people's willingness extends from the value they see in these services. We can't simply declare PEG to be an "inalienable right" and expect, from that declaration, some black magic to render PEG channels and content from the ether.

If anything, I think this issue signifies that the local governments, in this regard, are not necessarily our "last remaining allies" but rather a primary opponent. Are they not in large part the cause of this problem? Despite problematic legislation engineered by profiteering cable companies, this money is still available to our local governments and they've chosen, based on whatever standards they use, not to share it with the content providers upon whose existence that money was based.

Since I moved to Chapel Hill I've become very optimistic about the power of the local political process. We have a good form of local democracy here. What isn't perfect can be improved. Especially when people participate. I truly believe that our local elected officials are our allies.

I have to agree with Brain here. I have found this area to be wonderfully democratic and participatory. I guess that's why I never expected to have such a hard time with these issues. I would have thought that both the Town and County, had they ways to support TPC further, would have done so on principal. However, so far, this has not been the case.

I do also want to clarify something that is slightly misleading in the Indy article. TPC still has the same level of funding. We lost staff because TPC expected support from the state funds because we had been told that the Town wanted to do the fair and right thing and follow the law. It was implied many times that we would receive a portion of the state funds. So, in trying to grow the organization, we kept on our Director of Fundraising and Outreach hoping that the funds from the Supplemental PEG fee would support half of their salary for 6 months and our reserves the other half.  This money never came to fruition, we started running out of reserve, let the position go, and I continuted to negotiate with the Town.

Just wanted to make that clear...

Brian,

I'm certainly not calling for some kind of violent insurrection or an abandonment of local government based on one error in judgement! I too believe in our local government and would second your hopes for improvement.

Best,

-Jeff

The airwaves that TV, Radio, Wireless internet, etc. travel on still belong to the people. The right of ways that contain poles to carry cable and ground that buries it belongs to the people. The Federal Communications Commission, State Government, and Local Government are charged to safe guard our property via regulations. Telecommunications companies have leased public property to transmit their signals across our public resources. As Chad says they are making millions. But only a small fraction of that goes back to the original property owners (you and me). [BTW - I don't mean in our pockets like some tax rebate.] First Telcos bought the FCC (thanks Prez Bush), then they bought votes in the State legislature via campaign contributions and AGGRESSIVE lobbying, and now...

Our local governments are some of the last allies we have left. Are they still on our side protecting the publics interest? Thanks to the new State franchise law local governments have fewer powers to protect our democratic right to determine what happens with public airwaves and right of ways. These are some of the results of deregulation of the communications industry and the privatization of public resources.

Just one quick note...

1. I assure you that the telecom industry does a great deal of research to know exactly what your price cap is. They know that they can charge you $44.99 for broadband internet, but not $45.15. If you tax them more for use of the right of way, the price will not go up. What people will pay for a service has no link what so ever with how much a company is taxed.

2. You Tube does not advocate for you! Google bought You Tube for $1.65 BILLION so that consumers would have an advocate in the internet video world? Really? No, they bought it because they make revenue off of advertising and collect data for marketing purposes.

Just my thoughts...

While I agree that there are innumerable outlets for citizens to speak their voice, I think the greater issue here is ACCESS. While not every 'common citizen' has access (nor may they be able to afford access to) the internet, alternative media, etc., nor the information needed to create websites, blogs, and so forth, TPC is, perhaps, the simplest way of connecting our community.

The fact that Chapel Hill HAS a resource like TPC, in my opinion, is severely under-appreciated. Within the last years, TPC has lost 50% of its staff, and yet it still struggles to provide the same level of services, classes, and community outreach that it always has. I think it's truly a shame to watch the full-time staff struggle to provide all of its producers with working, modern equipment while juggling answering the phones, assisting producers or directors with their shows and teach a class all within the same breath.

I'm surprised that TPC has received such resistance from the town regarding their funding. Hopefully, with all of our voices, we can help change that.

I want to encourage anyone reading these posts to contact their legislators and local officials and have their voices heard on the issue. Posting online is all well and good, but we've got to get out there and talk in the real world too, or at least on the phone or in real letters made out of paper (call me old fashioned). :-) It's not going to happen if we don't call people to action. Good luck Chad!

Although I do not even have television and do not watch TPC, it's been an invaluable local resource for me outside of media consumption.  I took a video production class through the Carrboro Arts Center and have borrowed equipment from TPC to film that otherwise I wouldn't have access to.  Anyone that takes a class or does an orientation can borrow prosumer level cameras, tripods, lights, sound equipment for filming, and then can edit their project at TPC.  Once it's complete, you have a built-in mechanism for getting that product to an audience.  

I've since bought a camera but Chad and Jeremy have provided invaluable technical assistance thusfar and they certainly haven't seen the last of me!  Knowing that I can create a product start-to-finish and having the motivation of an outlet where it will air has been an amazing experience: before three months ago, I hadn't ever touched a video camera.  

On TPC's website, Chad mentions "Manzoor Cheema, a scientist who walked into an orientation in 2004 and told the group he wanted to become a documentary filmmaker even though he had no media experience and no funding.  As a result of the training and networking resources he found at TPC, he was able to create something wonderful.  The program he helped found, Independent Voices, is now syndicated weekly on over 50 Public Access stations nationwide." 

How amazing.  This is my motivation: that TPC has supported someone else with a similar goal but no experience, and that he has been a success!

 [The above came from the donation page on TPC's website: http://www.thepeopleschannel.org/donations.htm]

 

Public Access is a great thing for Chapel Hilll and Orange County.  It is a great venue for free speech and for people learning video & media.  Many carreers have been launched through The Peoples Channel.  Empowering people at the local level is what public access is all about.  Local governments in Orange county should be a role model and promote free speech & education, not thwart it!

I just discovered this on the Town of Chapel Hill's website:

05/15/08 – Questions have arisen regarding the funding for PEG channels on cable.

The Town of Chapel Hill continues its operating agreement with The Peoples Channel at the same level of funding as in previous years. The Peoples Channel would like a greater share of funding from PEG supplemental funds distributed to the Town from the NC Department of Revenue. These PEG supplemental funds are a new source of funds (about $29,000 last year) and have not yet been appropriated by Council.

PEG channels for Chapel Hill cable subscribers include the public access channel (The Peoples Channel or Ch. 8) as well as the Government Channel (Ch. 18) that the Town of Chapel Hill operates to bring government programming to citizens.

The Council is scheduled to review an agenda item set for the June 9 meeting that discusses this matter in detail. A few points include the following:

  • The Town Council has supported public access programming on cable since 1998. Every year since its establishment, the Council has approved an increase to the fees that support this channel.The Peoples Channel is a contractor that operates under a performance agreement with the Town of Chapel Hill to provide programming.
  • The Peoples Channel continues to enjoy full funding, as there have been no reductions to its funding from the Town (a recent article in The Independent suggests that employees were laid off due to funding decreases).
  • Supplemental PEG fees are not earmarked solely for The Peoples Channel.
  • "PEG" refers to publicly operated channels available only to cable subscribers (not the same as public access television).
- http://www.townofchapelhill.org/index.asp?NID=1722
The Peoples Channel would like a greater share of funding from PEG supplemental funds distributed to the Town from the NC Department of Revenue.

TPC only wants the amount of funding allocated them by State law. They have never asked for more. This quote from the Town makes it sound like a local non-profit is greedy. What a sad backhanded comment. Who wrote it?

These PEG supplemental funds are a new source of funds (about $29,000 last year) and have not yet been appropriated by Council.

Yes these funds are new. But if the Town didn't certify the Peoples' Channel as one of three PEG channels they wouldn't receive these funds. How can the Town suggest they get to keep a third of these funds if they wouldn't have them in the first place if it wasn't for TPC?

PEG channels for Chapel Hill cable subscribers include the public access channel (The Peoples Channel or Ch. 8) as well as the Government Channel (Ch. 18) that the Town of Chapel Hill operates to bring government programming to citizens.

Don't forget the Education channel Channel 4 run by a UNC student group aka STV. Is the Town trying to withhold funds from that group too?

The Peoples Channel continues to enjoy full funding, as there have been no reductions to its funding from the Town (a recent article in The Independent suggests that employees were laid off due to funding decreases).

Town staff has rejected so many proposals from TPC and delayed funding for so long it had a REAL effect on the TPC budget. Why does the Town deflect the impact of these funds not being available to a local nonprofit in a official press release?

I am sickened by the framing of this press release. Its a serious attempt at misinforming our Mayor, Council, and Citizens. All the facts are not contained in there. Is this some kind of PR clean up from "bad press"?

On the agenda for the Monday, June 9 Chapel Hill Town Council meeting is "The Peoples Channel Performance Agreement.". (Item 4. q) This is a packed meeting but this item relating to The Peoples Channel is a "action item". Please come and tell the council how important The Peoples Channel is to our community and that they deserve every penny allocated for them by state law. I hope to be there.

 

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