What is going on? It started with the elimination of local franchises and their replacement by state franchises. In California, for example, the legislature was lobbied heavily by the telecommunications industry to abolish local franchises. It used to be that when a cable TV company, like Cox Communications, was awarded the sole franchise to provide television service in a city, only one corporation had permission to dig up our public rights of way (PROW) and there were fewer green cable boxes in front of people’s homes. PEG had always been the beneficiary of local franchises because cities could negotiate capital equipment for PEG channels and funding that by national law can only go to community television channels. It was this type of local franchise that allowed KOCT to replace aging equipment, upgrade its studio and receive a direct Cox Communications funding stream.
However, when the legislators passed the Digital Infrastructure Video Competition Act (DIVCA) in 2007, two things happened. First, other telecom providers such as AT&T were allowed to compete locally with Cox Cable to provide TV and internet services. Second, local franchises were eliminated and replaced by a state franchise process. (Cox has grandfathered in its Oceanside franchise until 2017.) Corporations, such as AT&T, are required to match some of Cox Communications’ funding requirements.
Unfortunately, with DIVCA more than just local franchises was lost. Cable and phone companies were to provide the same quality and level of service for PEG channels as required under local franchises but the reality in some cases is that the quality and functionality is lower. Digital video recorders cannot automatically record PEG channels. Many PEG channels have been placed so far up the channel line-up that only the most diligent browser can find them!
In our next Behind the Scenes blog, find out about the next perfect storm front to further threaten our PEG heroine…