Public access television is a cable television service that allows members of the public to use video production equipment and facilities and to create and cablecast their own content to the local community. This service is provided to the public free or at low cost on a first-come, first-served, non-discriminatory basis. Funding for public access is typically very limited.
What is Public Access?
Public access is a segment of the PEG access television model of local cable television production offered in the United States. “Access” television provides training and access to media production technology and distribution methods so that community producers and viewers may participate in the local, national, and global electronic common areas that include, but are not limited to television, radio and the internet.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a growing concern that new-at-the-time cable television resources should be used for the public interest and many advocates voiced their opinions that some portion of this new market should be reserved for public use. Additionally, there was concern within communities as cities began contracting for cable TV service that companies were using public by-ways (such as roads and sidewalks to run cable wires) to make a profit and many advocates believed some form of ‘rent’ should be paid for their use. Cable companies at the time were greater in number and smaller in size and negotiating this arrangement was eventually confirmed by the FCC and US cable companies were then required to provide a percentage of revenue from the cable TV subscription fees to provide public access to the cable systems.There are four general types of cable access known as PEG (short for public, educational, and government access) and cable company-produced LO (Local Origination). Public Access Television is intended for private citizens from the contracted municipality to distribute local and community initiated programming and content. Educational Access generally provides services to school districts and Government Access serves municipal and civic organizations. Local Origination is programming produced by local cable company franchises, though this is becoming less of a priority in the global media market. Municipalities have a broad spectrum of franchise agreements with cable television service providers. Depending on the size of the community and their contractual agreement the PEG and LO channels may take many forms. Large communities often have a separate organization for each PEG type, smaller communities may have a single organization that manages all three. Because each organization will develop its own policies and procedures, constituent services differ greatly between communities.
It is important to recognize that in the current national and global media landscape it is nearly impossible for average citizens to place their ideas and opinions on television. Public access organizations have often adopted more action-oriented roles in their respective communities to serve as possibly one of the last venues for local and community oriented programming to be seen and heard. Many organizations serve as protectors of the right to free speech and the value the specific diversities of their constituents; many also strive to include the under-served and under-represented segments of their city or town residents.
Services available at public access organizations are often low cost or free of charge, with an inclusive, content neutral, first-come, first-served, free speech ideology. Monies from cable franchise fees are used to operate the facilities, employ staff and trainers, develop curriculum, operate training workshops, schedule and maintain equipment, produce programming, manage the cablecast of shows and publish promotion materials to build audiences.Users of public access stations may participate at most levels of this structure to make content that is meaningful and reflective of their experience within their communities. Many public access channels carry primarily locally produced programs while others also carry regionally or nationally distributed programming. The Alliance for Community Media, http://www.alliancecm.org/the national organization of PEG centers, is committed to assuring everyone’s access to electronic media through public education, a progressive legislative and regulatory agenda, coalition building and grassroots organizing.Alliance for Community Media, West Region http://acmwest.org Free Press http://www.freepress.net/ Bill Olson’s History of Public Access http://www.geocities.com/iconostar/history- public-access-TV.html The Global Village CAT, which contains worldwide links to 600 Community & Public Access Television sites (http://www.openchannel.se/cat/index.htm) Douglas Kellner’s history of Public Access at the Museum of Broadcast Communications http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/P/htmlP/publicaccess