[...] WYOU's predicament is unremarkable: Public, educational and government (PEG) access television stations across the country are shutting down in the hundreds. And make no mistake—this is a big deal. What's at stake is not just a valuable (small-d) democratic forum, but the last bastion of our airwaves being used for the public good.
But why is PEG access in decline in the first place?
It all relates back to one thing: cable franchising fees. Historically, local jurisdictions have awarded franchises to cable companies, allowing them to have the rights to be the exclusive suppliers for a community. As part of the bargain, those communities also obligated the companies to support PEG access programming by providing funds, facilities, and channels to use — all totally legal under the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984.
For some communities, the paradigm has changed. For one thing, more local governments have to reconcile with budget shortfalls, and the franchising fees formerly spent on PEG access have been diverted to other expenditures, like paying public employees. Another reason is that the FCC curtailed funding for PEG; they ruled in the mid-2000s that many franchising fees were too high, and needed to be reduced.
But really, those changes are red herrings: The real culprit is something called cable franchising legislation. Almost half of the states have now passed franchising laws to lower barriers to entry for new cable operators — in other words, Verizon and AT&T. They create a single state franchising authority, so cable operators need only go to the state to win franchising rights, instead of going from community to community. The kicker is that these bills also phase out requirements for cable operators to support PEG access.
A bunch of weirdly similar free-market-oriented bills getting passed in state legislatures at the same time? It's almost like they were copying some conservative think tank's model legislation!
All right, I'll just say it: It's ALEC.