FCC slashes franchise fees for cable companies, leaving community channels in limbo

Could have an impact nationwide, including CAN TV Chicago

In a move that could have devastating consequences for community-based cable TV channels, the dysfunctional and useless FCC voted among party lines Thursday (like they do for everything else) 3-2 to let cable networks and data assign a value to their networks and can reduce fees owed to localities by that amount. Local cable authorities can no longer cannot regulate broadband service over cable networks and any equipment cable operators have to provide to municipalities must count toward the FCC’s 5 percent franchise fees cap.

In other words, money from cable communities to fund community-based PEG (public, education and government) channels used to televise city council meetings, press conferences, etc. may no longer be there.

Opponents of today’s action are planning legal challenges.

This is the latest in a string of politically divisive votes at the commission in recent years, including those of net neutrality, the landline phone program, ownership rules, kidvid rules, and cities regulating broadband. The three Republicans on the commission led by Ajit Pai voted for the rule change; the remaining two Democrats dissented.

Cable operators such as Comcast (the dominant cable provider in the Chicago area) and Charter were in support of the measure while numerous municipalities were against it. The money to provide services such as televising city council meetings, local public access programs, and providing emergency information could be cut back or eliminated. And this comes at a time when many households are “cord-cutting” as the cost of cable TV has become prohibitive for a lot of people.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors voted to oppose the effort from cable companies and lobbying groups such as the Internet and Television Association at a recent conference held in Honolulu earlier this summer. Even though Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot did not attend, other Chicago-area mayors and village presidents who did and voted for the measure included those from Addison, Dolton, Evanston, Hanover Park, Hazel Crest, Hoffman Estates, North Chicago, Romeoville, Waukegan, and Gary, Ind.

The measure could have implications for Chicago’s CAN TV , Homewood Public Access 19 (serving primarily the south suburbs), Evanston’s Channel 16, Lansing (Ill.) Neighborhood Network and other community and non-profit entities. In Philadelphia for example, the new rule could force the city to stop programming public-access channels. In New York City, free services such as providing internet to firehouses could be eliminated. With money from cable companies slashed, Chicago would be hard-pressed to continue funding where as the city is facing huge economic challenges, including funding pensions and dealing with budget shortfalls.

The City of Chicago has their own channel on most cable systems.

Chicago’s CAN TV could be affected by new FCC rules.

Long ago, public-access channels were basically created by the cable industry to give voices to those – especially minorities – the ability to be seen and heard. Local entities such as CAN TV not only give the public a forum but also trains them in numerous aspects of television production, including producing, writing, field production, and digital video editing.

Democratic commissioner Geoffrey Starks said the decision “risks grave harms to communities” while fellow Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenwarcel said the decision “cuts at public, educational, and governmental channels across the country” [because it] “goes beyond placing reasonable limits on contributions subject to the statutory franchise fee and jeopardizes the day-to-day costs, like staff and overhead, required to run such stations.”

But Pai remained steadfast in his theory cities are taking advantage of a loophole filled with “excessive fees and inappropriate regulations imposed by local governments deter broadband deployment and discourage investment in next-generation facilities and services.”

It is not known what impact this ruling would have on Chicago, but it would put the city in a position to make some choices that could have ramifications for community-based TV, though it is hard to pinpoint what this is given CAN TV and the city itself has not addressed the issue.

This is the second time in a month the FCC’s Republican majority has stripped away municipalities’ rights when it comes to technology infrastructure. In a similar partisan vote, the FCC pre-empted a San Francisco ordinance giving apartment residents a right to choose their ISP. Like this, the measure was opposed by the cable and broadband industries.

All of this proves once again Pai and his Republican cohorts are willing to put the cable industry and their lobbyists above those of local communities, like he did with cutting the “lifeline” program a few years back. At a time when minority communities are under attack from the Trump Administration for just about everything, this is another example of bureaucrats and lobbyists making it tougher for those who want to produce their own programming but unable to do so.

In the bible, a proverb is stated as saying “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.”

The Republicans on the FCC and the cable industry want the man to fish but also want to take away the fishing pole.

 

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