Those who support community television, and that includes YourArlington, want you to know about the latest threat – a franchise fee.

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The proposed fee would affect ACMi, Arlington's cable TV station, which has been independent of corporate ownership since 2005 and a media partner of YourArlington since 2008.

Some background: Cable stations meet community needs by providing in-kind contributions that benefit the public. 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. Thus, local governments have to decide between supporting stations such as ACMi – or other important services, such as schools and libraries.

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and others have proposed legislation to address the issue (more about that below).

First, Your Arlington asked Norm McLeod, executive director ACMi, to look at the matter from his viewpoint. He wrote:

“In the early days of cable, in the 1970s, the providers were more than happy to acquiesce to town requirements that they provide free access to town entities, such as libraries schools and community TV stations. The agreements allowed them to use town-owned poles to string their cables and distribute programming to what has now become millions of subscribers. 

“Nowadays despite cable making huge profits, these companies now act like any business and want to reduce their costs as much as possible. Unfortunately they are trying to 'charge back' the cost of some of these formerly free services to the town, including costs associated with ACMi and many other vitally important services that facilitate communications within the town. 

“I’m most happy to see this bill reintroduced to stop the attempt to charge back for these services, which would have a huge negative impact on ACMi and other community stations. We hope this bill will pass to insure the stability of ACMi and other services that are important to the town.”

Reintroducing the Protecting Community Television Act on Dec. 9 were Senators Markey and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (Calif.-18), senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.-04), chair of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure.

The bill aims to ensure that community TV continues to receive the resources needed to educate and inform viewers in the cities and towns where they operate.

'Markey said in a news release: “Throughout the ongoing pandemic, viewers in Massachusetts and across the country have relied on community media to stay safe, healthy, and informed. I’m proud to reintroduce the Protecting Community Television Act because, in this era of increased media consolidation and globalization, it is critical that we preserve the PEG operations [Public, Educational and Governmental channels] that lift up local voices and air the programming that is most relevant to the lives of our family members and neighbors.”

DeFazio added: “Small communities depend on reliable community media to stay connected, informed, and engaged in the world around them – especially as local communities struggle to be heard in an increasingly globalized world. However, the Trump-era FCC’s ruling in 2019 undermined the ability of local governments to provide this critical service.”

Find a copy of the legislation HERE.

The Protecting Community Television Act clarifies that the franchise fees that cable companies provide local governments only include monetary assessments, not in-kind contributions. Endorsers of the legislation include National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, Alliance for Community Media and MassAccess.

Here is what change it is in the “franchise fee” section of the Community Television Act (changes are in all caps)

From:

622 (g) For the purposes of this section-- (1) the term ‘‘franchise fee’’ includes any tax, fee, or assessment of any kind imposed by a franchising authority or other governmental entity on a cable operator or cable subscriber, or both, solely because of their status as such;

To:

622 (g) For the purposes of this section-- (1) the term ‘‘franchise fee’’ MEANS any tax, fee, or OTHER MONETARY assessment of any kind imposed by a franchising authority or other governmental entity on a cable operator or cable subscriber, or both, solely because of their status as such;  


 Feb. 7, 2015: Why I support ACMi


This viewpoint was was published Wednesday, Dec.  15, 2021.