Freedom of expression is one of our fundamental rights under our system of government in the United States as stated in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. One of these rights is free speech. Here in the City of Brockton our City government, in the early 1980’s, felt that it was important for all residents to express their point of view through their local community television station. When Continental Cablevision was granted the right to sell cable television service in Brockton the residents were given local channels and access television was born through the start-up of a non-profit access corporation, Brockton Community Cable Television (BCCT).
The Mayor of the City of Brockton has the responsibility of bringing cable television into the City under a contract. Former Mayor David Crosby initiated this process in the early 1980’s by appointing a cable television advisory committee. In their Issuing Authority Report Completed in March 1981 they stated that:
“There will be a permanent, independent, non-profit corporation on cable television which will, among other responsibilities, coordinate and monitor public access to the cable television system.”
BCCT was then organized under Chapter 180 of Mass. General Laws on December 21, 1981.
“The purposes for which the Corporation is formed are: To support directly the production, promotion or acquisition of educational, cultural and informational programming, for the Brockton cable television system and for other purposes consistent with state and federal laws, rules, regulations and policies.”
Since then BCA has existed to fulfill it’s mission:
“To encourage diversity and freedom of expression by citizens in the public, educational and government access community through the provision of training, facilities and cablecast time.”
In the United States, public access is an alternative system of television which originated as a response to disenchantment with the commercial broadcasting system, and in order to fulfill some of the social potential of cable television.
Public Access was created to provide a free-speech forum, open to all on a first-come, first-served basis without discrimination or favoritism based on content. It should be noted that the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is not public access television and has no official connection with PEG. PBS is funded publicly and by private grants and contributions, as well as an element of commercial sponsorship. PEG is funded by cable television companies through subscription fees, and also by private grants and contributions. PBS does not regularly provide free use of facilities to produce programming.
In 1968 the Dale City, Virginia Jaycees’ Junior Chamber of Commerce operated the first community-operated closed-circuit television channel in the United States, when Cable TV Incorporated gave a channel to the public access center Dale City Television (DCTV), but the center failed two years later.
The FCC issued its Third Report and Order in 1972, which required all cable systems in the top 100 U.S. television markets to provide three access-channels, one each for educational, local government, and public use, where if there was insufficient demand for three in a particular market, the cable companies could offer fewer channels, but at least one, and any group or individual wishing to use the channels was guaranteed at least five minutes free. The requirement was certified by the US Supreme Court in June, 1972 in United States v. Midwest Video Corp.
The rule was amended in 1976 to include cable systems in communities with 3500 or more subscribers, and the cable companies had no discretion. In 1979 the US Supreme Court, in FCC v. Midwest Video Corp, set aside the FCC’s rules as beyond the agency’s jurisdiction.
The 1984 Cable Franchise Policy and Communications Act written by Senator Barry Goldwater, allowed local governments to require PEG channels, barred cable operators from exercising editorial control over content of programs carried on PEG channels, and absolved them from liability for that content.
Congress passed the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992, which gave the FCC authority to create rules requiring cable operators to prohibit certain shows. The Alliance for Community Media and others brought suit, and in 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court held the law unconstitutional, in part because it required cable operators to act on behalf of the federal government to control expression based on content.
Currently the Alliance for Community Media and others are focusing on operational challenges after new deregulation rules in various states are threatening PEG access.
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