Public access TV still important in Corner
There are at least two sides to every story. The story reported by Patrick Sullivan in last week’s edition of this newspaper on the jockeying for ownership of Comcast’s CATV6 shows that very well. Sullivan spoke with four different sides of the ownership question: Tri-State Public Communications, Northwest Corner Public Access, Comcast and the Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA, formerly the DPUC, a state oversight agency).Part of this story is based on internal personnel disagreements, and on that part there is little on which outside observers can or even should speculate. However, another part, which is of real concern to the public in the Northwest Corner, is the use and function of public access TV. Cable companies are still required to provide a forum for their users through their public access channels, but this federally mandated obligation is one that cable companies have been lobbying to diminish in recent years. In this they have had some success and have pulled oversight and regulation of these channels to the state level, with much less local community input. In California, for instance, 12 cable access TV stations were closed in the Los Angeles area after the state set up a deal where the cable companies could pay higher fees to the municipalities in which they operated in order to offset the requirement to have the number of access channels be defined by population.While cable companies are proceeding in the direction of trying to remove themselves from the cable access provisions, in the Northwest Corner there is still a sense that such communication is important. This is a sparsely populated, rural set of communities that nonetheless expects a certain level of sophistication in governance, education and cultural and social life. There actually is a reason to have such an open forum continue here, with a concerned and active populace, many of whom are not full-time residents, still wanting to keep up with local activity.Some of that keeping up can be done through other sources: radio, Facebook, local blogs, websites, statewide commercial TV and this and other area newspapers. However, the absence or diminution of cable access TV would take away part of the fabric of communication in the region that creates a more complete picture of life here.PURA is now setting up a schedule to review and evaluate cable access channels across the state, which has unfortunately not been done since a law change in 2007. It is to be hoped that regulations do not change in Connecticut as a result of this initiative in the direction other states have taken, which is to decrease requirements for public access TV. Rather, oversight by PURA and Comcast should be more regular and positively affect the quality and variety of programming at cable access TV stations.The decision of Comcast to keep authority of CATV6 with Tri-State Public Communications can, and probably will, still be challenged by Northwest Corner Public Access in an appeal to Comcast and PURA. No matter which way this squabble is ultimately settled, it is the cable-buying and viewing public who will lose if the need to have an open cable access channel, dedicated to free speech and the transmission of public, educational and governmental information, is not recognized and implemented by Comcast, the state and the entity that ends up running it.