Is Public Access?
What is access?
Why do communities include access requirements
in cable franchises?
Is the goal to produce programming of a certain
Is access well established in many communities?
What is the preferred management structure
for a PEG access operation?
What are the advantages of the nonprofit corporation
How would a nonprofit access corporation relate
to the City and the cable company?
What types of services would the access organization
How would the access organization be funded?
What is access?
A: Access can be subdivided into public access, educational access
and government access. The term "PEG access" is called
"public, educational, and government use" under the Cable
Public access consists of video programming and other electronic
information produced, directed, and engineered by community volunteers.
(For convenience, all types of information carried on PEG channels
will be referred to as programming," although PEG channels
are used to carry video information, data, video text, and voice
communications.) In the case of public access, the programming is
developed or acquired by nonprofit community groups, neighborhood
organizations, social service agencies, and individual citizens.
It focuses on many aspects of community life, ranging from the services
and activities of community organizations to the opinions and beliefs
of individuals in the community.
Educational access is developed or acquired by school or college
employees, students, and school volunteers. It typically focuses
on distance learning, school activities, and information that the
school/college wants to get out to the community or share among
Government access is created or acquired by local government employees,
elected officials, and volunteers. It typically focuses on information
about services provided by local, State, and regional governments,
issues faced by local governments, and public meeting coverage.
Government access is also used for other purposes, such as providing
training to City employees or exchanging information between City
agencies and other institutions.
The content of the material carried on PEG access is determined
by the individuals, groups, or organizations that produce it.
There is also "institutional" use or institutional access.
Institutional use typically involved the transmission of information
among public buildings, hospitals, educational institutions, and
other similar institutions. The residential subscriber may not receive
the transmission. This institutional use can be thought of as a
subcategory of PEG access.
Access program content is controlled by the group, organization,
institution, or individual that produces or provides a program.
PEG access is typically noncommercial in that there are no commercial
advertising spots and there are typically no so-called "infomercials"
run on PEG access. Access channels sometimes do carry PBS-style
credit for underwriters. Programming on educational channels may
include credit classes for a fee that must be paid in order to obtain
Q: Why do communities include access requirements in cable franchises?
A: Both the Cable Acts of 1984 and 1992 permit local governments
to include and enforce requirements for PEG access equipment, facilities,
services, and support in a franchise. The Acts explain the purposes
of access well: "Public access channels are often the video
equivalent of the speaker's soap box or the electronic parallel
to the printed leaflet. They provide groups and individuals who
generally have not had access to the electronic media with the opportunity
to become sources of information in the electronic marketplace of
ideas." These federal laws also permit local government to
require institutional networks that can be used by local community
Q: Is the goal to produce programming of a certain type?
A: No. The goal is to create a sort of "electronic park"
where everyone can be a provider as well as a recipient of information,
and where everyone can participate in public debate electronically.
Cable companies often argue that access channels do not get ratings
the way an ESPN gets ratings. That misses the point of the PEG channels.
In some ways, PEG channels are meant to allow an electronic dialogue
and exchange of information. There may be a limited number of people
interested in any particular dialogue, but the availability of the
channels means that there is an opportunity for voices to be heard.
As a result, a very typical pattern for a well supported access
channel is that relatively few people will be watching at any particular
time, but that over a period of time, a large number of people will
tune in to the channel.
For example, access channels expand the ability of community residents
to be more active participants in government and educational meetings
by cablecasting City Council and school board meetings. One would
not be surprised if the viewership level of any one particular meeting
would be low when compared to many other television channels. But
the fact that the program is carried means that, as particular issues
become part of the agenda, viewers with an interest in that issue
can view the public debate and participate in it. Over time, many
subscribers will watch. Further, the availability of the channel
means that those who could not participate "live" may
be able to participate by watching a rebroadcast of a particular
event. It also means that programmers can target programming to
reach particular segments of the community that need help. For example,
one of the problems confronted by social service agencies is outreach:
a shelter for battered women may wish to produce an access program
about their services, and finds this to be a more efficient way
to reach the public than available alternatives. From a community's
standpoint, the issue is not "will this attract the same number
of viewers that watch HBO," but is instead "will this
allow members of the community to work together more effectively."
Q: Is access well established in many communities?
A: Access has been in operation for 15-25 years in many communities
across the country. Included are major cities and very small towns,
like Austin, Texas; Chicago, Illinois; Malden, Massachusetts; Bloomington,
Indiana; Gresham, Oregon; Sacramento, California; Portland, Oregon;
Dayton, Ohio; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Anoka, Minnesota; and Burlington,
Vermont. Access has existed since the early 1970's and much has
been learned about how to operate and utilize PEG access channels.
Q: What is the preferred management structure for a PEG access
A: The creation of a nonprofit corporation is broadly recognized
as an advantageous approach to developing and facilitating public
access as well as educational and government access in a community.
These nonprofit access management corporations are created specifically
to manage access channels, facilities, and equipment and to provide
access services. They are tax-exempt and are identified as 501(c)(3)
organizations under U.S. tax law and the Internal Revenue Service
Code. Such corporations exist in hundreds of communities both large
Q: What are the advantages of the nonprofit corporation model?
A: There are many advantages to the nonprofit corporation model
for access management, including:
Demonstrated track record of achievement in many communities.
Primary purpose of nonprofit is to assure the wide use of access
Operations and programming efforts are more responsive to the community's
Provides a community-based approach to decision making.
Board of Directors of nonprofit is broad-based and representative
of the community.
More accountability to the community.
Provides a degree of insulation between local government and cable
company in area of program content and liability for program content.
This insulation has proven to be extremely valuable to both the
local government and cable company in many communities.
Allows government to have accountability function regarding public
access rather than control over content of public access programs.
Because of the nonprofit status and the combined PEG approach there
are more potential sources of funding for special activities and
Many nonprofit access corporations provide access services not only
for public access but also for educational and government access.
The advantages of this combined approach to PEG access management
are fairly obvious. Some of them include (1) a more efficient use
of available equipment, facilities, and operating dollars; (2) a
desire to create a truly cooperative relationship between public,
educational and government access; and (3) elimination of unnecessary
layers of bureaucracy associated with multiple access management
entities. This approach also assures the ability for each speaker
whether a citizen, a community group, a school, or City government
to maintain control of their program content and at the same time
have all the benefits derived from collaborations with other groups
Q: How would a nonprofit access corporation relate to the City
and the cable company?
A: The nonprofit access corporation would operate access channels
and facilities and provide services as specified in contracts with
the City and the cable company.
Q: What types of services would the access organization provide?
A: 1. Operate Public, Educational, and Government Access Channel(s).
Run the access cable channels for PEG access programming with the
primary purpose being to administer, coordinate, and assist those
access on a non-discriminatory basis.
Operate a Community Access Center.
Provide a video production facility and equipment that shall be
available for public use at such hours and times as are determined
by the access corporation. Access to equipment and facilities shall
be open to all those who receive training or who receive a certification
from the access corporation
identifying the user(s) as having satisfied training requirements.
Develop Operating Rules and Procedures.
Establish rules and procedures for use and operation of the access
equipment, facilities and channel(s) and file such rules and procedures
with the City.
Teach video production techniques to City residents and, when requested,
City and school employees. Provide technical advice for the productions.
Provide for the playback/cablecasting of programs on the access
Maintenance of Equipment.
Provide regular maintenance and repair of all video equipment.
Actively promote the use and benefits of the access channel(s) and
facilities to subscribers, the public, access users, community groups,
local government, educational institutions and the cable operator.
Develop and manage a pool of volunteers who create community-based
programs and assist others wishing assistance. While a wide range
of community volunteers typically produces access
programming, staff must provide the services listed above in order
to assure that an infrastructure is in place to support community
Q: How would the access organization be funded?
A: The funding for access falls into two broad categories, funding
for equipment and facilities and funding for access services. Typically,
the funding for equipment and facilities is provided by the cable
company. Under the Cable Act local franchising authorities have
the ability to require and enforce a requirement of funds for this
purpose in the franchise agreement.
second type of funding required is funds for the provision of the
access services listed earlier. Frequently, the two primary funding
sources of funding for access services are the cable company and
the City (using of a portion of cable franchise fees received by
City). Under the Cable Act a local franchising authority can enforce
access services offerings. Due to idiosyncrasies in the Cable Act,
the funds for access services that are provided by the cable company
must be transferred through a separate agreement between the access
corporation and the cable company. This approach preserves the separation
between access services funds and franchise fees.