Public-access television: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Public access television is one of three types of PEG (Public Educational Governmental) media access within a municipality.



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 fulfil some of the social potential of cable television.[1]

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.[2]

In 1969 WSTO TV was started in Stoughton, WI as Viking Media Corp. WSTO is the oldest PEG channel still in existence. WSTO began before the city of Stoughton, Wisconsin even had cable. Bob Burrel and his wife Janeen ran their own cables throughout the city and began to broadcast to people homes. Once cable service providers decided to come into Stoughton, Viking Media Corp, in association with The City of Stoughton, negotiated the first franchise agreement requiring the cable provider to provide a channel for this community station to continue, and requiring them to provide some funding in the form of an annual franchise fee. Thus insuring the life of the channel. Not to long after, Viking Media Corp became WSTO TV.

The FCC issued its Third Report and Order[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] The requirement was certified by the US Supreme Court in June, 1972 in United States v. Midwest Video Corp.[3]

The rule was amended in 1976 to include cable systems in communities with 3500 or more subscribers, and the cable companies had no discretion.[citation needed] In 1979 the US Supreme Court, in FCC v. Midwest Video Corp,[4] set aside the FCC's rules as beyond the agency's statutory powers as granted to them by Congress.


The 1984 Cable Act

U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater

Congress acted to save PEG from the result of the Supreme Court in the Midwest Video decision, however the legislative imperatives of compromise between the demands of the people and the demands of the cable industry yielded a law with only small benefits.

The 1984 Cable Franchise Policy and Communications Act written by Senator Barry Goldwater, said,

"A franchising authority ... may require as part of a cable operator's proposal for a franchise renewal ... that channel capacity be designated for public, educational, or governmental use."[5](emph. added)

This appeared to be a law which creates new rights, however was not. The franchise agreement is a contract between the cable operator and the municipality. Thus, the municipality could always stipulate a PEG channel requirement, and the contracts clause of the United States Constitution prevented Congress from disallowing it. So while the legislative intent was to correct the omission which caused the Midwest Video ruling, and make PEG mandatory, the result was a law which allowed the municipality to opt-out of PEG requirements, keep 100% of the franchise fees for their general fund, and provide no PEG facilities or channel capacity. Since 1984, many public access centers have closed around the country as more municipalities take the opt-out provision.

However, the 1984 Cable Act did contain some benefits for PEG, as it 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 directly threatening PEG access.


PEG access may be mandated by local or state government to provide any combination of television production equipment, training and airtime on a local cable system to enable members of the public, accredited educational institutions, and government to produce their own shows and televise them to a mass audience.

Municipalities must take initiative and petition the cable operator to provide the funding for PEG access as laid out by law, but municipalities may also choose to take no action and will instead keep the franchise fees in a general fund. A municipality may also choose to allow Governmental access but not Public access or may replace it with Governmental access or may take away Public access altogether, depending on the disposition of the local government or its voters.

Municipalities have a broad spectrum of franchise agreements with cable television service providers and may not create a monopoly through these agreements. Depending on the size of the community and their contractual agreement the PEG and local origination 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 concerning the commercial content of a program, constituent services differ greatly between communities.

Public access television

Public access television channels may be run by public grassroots groups, individuals, private non-profits, or government organizations. Policies and regulations are subject to their own ordinances and community standards.

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 paid to government for use of right-of-ways, hopefully allowing other general fund monies to be used to operate the facilities, employ staff and trainers, develop curriculum, operate training workshops, schedule and maintain equipment, manage the cablecast of shows and publish promotion materials to build station viewership. Funding and operating budgets vary significantly with the municipality's finances. Frequently it is left to the cable franchise to determine how they operate public access. The FCC does not mandate a cable franchise to provide any of the above services mentioned.

Users of public access stations may participate at most levels of this structure to make content of their choosing. Generally, anyone may have their programming aired on a public access channel. Users are not restricted to cable subscribers, though residency requirements may apply, depending on local franchise agreements or facility policy. Many public access channels try to favor locally produced programs while others also carry regionally or nationally distributed programming. Such programming—regional, national or even international—is usually aired on a channel curated by the PEG operator, which also carries programs produced by professional producers. A show that originates outside the municipality is often referred to as "bicycled", "dub and submit", or "satellite" programming.

In the event that a public access channel becomes filled up with programming a franchise may state that more channels may be added to suffice the demand.

Educational access television

Educational access is the institution set aside for fulfilling the needs of the educational departments and organizations within the municipality. Educational access channels may be associated with a specific school, school district or even private organization that is contracted to operate the access station for the city.

Educational access centers usually operate a cable channel on the local cable system and often include elements and principle that echo Public access in terms of training and resources. Many school media and video training programs are based in the educational access centers. Programming distributed by these centers ranges from student or parent produced media to coverage of local school functions and bodies (such as the School Council or Committee). There are a number of notable Educational access organizations that produce programming for a national audience and experiences a very broad distribution.

Government access television

Government access television is a resource of the city to address local municipal programming needs. Often the city or town may use the G channel to cablecast city council meetings, election programming, local emergency announcements and other events and programs as valued by the local government.

Local origination

In contrast with public access, which is government-mandated access for programming, local-origination programming is usually programming of local interest produced by operators of the PEG channels (usually producers that work for the PEG organization) or independent producers hired by the PEG organization. A local high school graduation ceremony produced by PEG employees and aired on a local PEG channel known as a "operator curated" channel, is one such example; however, in some jurisdictions in the United States, PEG operators will cover local schools and/or government events as part of their contractual obligations with their franchising agency. Because professional producers are utilized, channels curated by the PEG generally air content of higher-production standards.


Equipment available for public access broadcasting is evolving quickly. At its birth, the state-of-the-art PEG facilities were composed of racks full of analog tape decks and an automated video switching system. Recently, the low cost of digital production and distribution equipment, such as cameras, non-linear editing systems, digital video playback servers and new internet technologies have made digital content production the norm. The dropping cost of digital production and distribution gear has changed the way many PEG facilities operate.


PEG television has come under fire from many sources including cable tv providers, local governments and officials, producers, viewers, and even corporate litigations from potential copyright infringements. Special interest groups have also frequently applied pressure on PEG operations.

PEG often struggles to balance freedom of speech with free, open access to the cable systems and as a result cable operators or PEG organizations have occasionally (rightfully or wrongfully) banned producers , discriminated between programming in their allocation of airtime, or have removed or banned programming based upon potential legal problems, the values of the PEG organization, or the values or desires of the cable tv provider.

Funding for PEG is usually managed from local governments issuing the franchise agreement. This same government often receives franchise fees that come from the cable companies. Negotiation for PEG television services can be often be hindered by obstructive or restricting behavior from the cable company, a competing cable provider, or the government officials & staff issuing the franchise agreement.

PEG television has been challenged by cable TV and telephone companies, who are now expanding into the cable TV business. These companies have lobbied for significant legislation through the US House of Representatives and through various state assemblies to reduce or end PEG television.

In California, the passage of AB2987 or "The Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006", has drastically changed the laws by which cable tv companies must operate, and as a result, many public access studios in that state have closed.[6]

The FCC's official seal.

Municipalities, local governments and even residents often confuse the difference between commercial broadcast television and PEG television. PEG television has been reported to the FCC about infractions that may apply to broadcast television, even though cable television content (including public access television) is not subject to the same rules. Because cable television is a closed system with elective access there are fewer rules and restrictions about content.

PEG television stations and studios are sometimes poorly managed and/or poorly supported, and give rise to numerous complaints. Station complaints range from poor scheduling and playback, programming playing late or not at all, or signal strength being so weak that the program becomes unwatchable. Studio complaints usually focus on the lack of equipment or facilities, poor equipment condition, and staff indifference. Accusations are often made that these situations arose as a result of willful neglect on the part of a city, a cable company, or other third party organization, with the intention of making the public access facilities so inviable that interest in them will wane and facilities can be closed. Complaints may also reflect viewers' general disagreement with other people's viewpoints. Complaints may also reflect discrimination in the resources a PEG organization applies to one type of programming vs. another.

Another challenge in maintaining public access facilities as a free speech forum can come from within the membership of the PEG facility itself, by the overuse of commercial video programmers whose program content contains Sponsorship Underwriting Advertisements like the type permitted on Public Broadcasting Stations. Programming could then become very similar to other cable channels and programming without such sponsorship could be deprived of fair treatment by the administrators of a Public Access Facility.


Public access organizations remain in service in their municipalities. In a changing technology industry, many PEG organizations began investing in training and technology to distribute media in new ways using the internet. In 2005, the consumer media market became flooded with blogs, vlogs, RSS syndication and aggregation, iPod and cell phone media, and countless new methods for distributing information and ideas. As cable television adopts new technologies, many access centers adapted these new technologies in order to continue serving their missions and goals within their own constituency.[citation needed]

Outside the U.S.

There are public access or community television channels in other countries notably in Scandinavia, Western Europe and Australia. In Germany, Norway and Sweden there are "Open channels". In most countries access channels are broadcast on cable but in Australia, Denmark and Norway terrestrial transmission is common (UHF or digital). All channels are profit operations.



  1. ^ 47 U.S.C. 531 (2007).
  2. ^ Linder, Laura R. Public Access Television: America's Electronic Soapbox. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999. Page 6.
  3. ^ "". Retrieved 2009-10-27. 
  4. ^ "". Retrieved 2009-10-27. 
  5. ^ "Cable Communication Act of 1984". Public Access Awareness Association. 
  6. ^ "Cable flips channel on public access TV — Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2009-10-27. 

External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address