January 22, 2020

Wyden Introduces Legislation to Protect Community Television

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden this week introduced the Protecting Community Television Act, legislation to ensure that community television operations continue to receive the resources they need to educate and inform viewers in the cities and towns where they operate.  

“Community television provides a critical resource to citizens in Oregon and nationwide, opening the door for non-profits and civic-minded groups to access and educate local audiences on the issues most important to them,” Wyden said. “The fact that Trump’s FCC is trying to limit these kinds of opportunities and further enfranchise cable companies is incredibly frustrating but all too predictable. The Protecting Community Television Act will defend local interests against the shortsightedness of the Trump administration and greed of big cable.”

Currently, local governments are permitted to require as part of cable franchise agreements that cable companies meet demonstrated community needs by providing in-kind contributions that benefit schools and public safety buildings as well as public, educational and government (PEG) channels, also known as community television stations. However, in August 2019, the FCC voted to permit cable companies to assign a value to these contributions and then subtract that amount from the franchise fees the cable operator pays the local community. As a result, local governments will have to decide between supporting PEG stations in cable franchise agreements and supporting other important services for critical community institutions like schools and libraries.

The Protecting Community Television Act clarifies that the franchise fees that cable companies provide local governments only include monetary assessments, not in-kind contributions. Alongside Wyden, U.S. Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Marie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., have co-sponsored the new legislation. 

Endorsers of the legislation include National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, United States Conference of Mayors, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, Alliance for Community Media and TeleCommUnity.

There are more than 1,500 public, educational and governmental studios/operations and an estimated 3,000 PEG channels in America. Religious programming represents 30 percent of local access programming. Tens of thousands of hours of programming is produced by veterans, seniors, the disabled and ethnic, minority and second language groups.

A copy of the legislation is available here.