WTF? Cable Operators to Eliminate PEG Access Facilities in L.A.?

I just stumbled upon this message from a couple of days ago by an organization called Full Disclosure.  As their written materials and accompanying video indicate, apparently, the Los Angeles City Council is set to vote tomorrow, November, 25, to ratify a plan that would eliminate most cable television Public, Educational, and Governmental (PEG) access facilities serving the city.  According to Full Disclosure, the principal cable operators in Los Angeles, which they name as Time Warner Cable and Cox, switched from a citywide franchise to a statewide franchise in 2006, which became effective last year.  Under the previous franchise agreement, which, says Full Disclosure, had been in effect for at least 20 years, the  City’s cable operators had been providing 14 PEG facilities, including studios and equipment, for the production of this local access programming.  Under the new plan, which Full Disclosure states was adopted by the City Council’s Committee on Information Technology Agency & General Services on November 11, the cable operators may eliminate all of their PEG facilities support by the end of this year, and the City would be left with only 4 PEG channels to finance and run itself, if it chooses to foot the bill. According to Full Disclosure’s video, Time Warner has already stated that it intends to eliminate all 14 of its PEG facilities.  Full Discloure states that, not only would Los Angeles residents lose valuable PEG facilities, but the remaining facilities would be fully controlled by the City, which would stifle local voices.

Normally, I would research this story more thoroughly to find out if it was accurate, but the time frame prevents this.  I would welcome any information from readers who know more about this. What I did find out was that, according to the City’s Information Technology Agency website, Full Disclosure appears to be correct: “Pursuant to new State law, the City’s incumbent cable TV providers, Time Warner, Cox Communications and Charter Communications, will no longer be obligated to provide free in-kind services such as free Internet and cable TV services to City departments, facilities, libraries, and schools, and operate and financially support Public Access TV studios” (emphasis added).  The website also indicates that “the new State law provides that the City of Los Angeles may assume financial responsibility for all such services commencing January 1, 2009″ (emphasis added).  Which apparently means that the City could decide not to provide such support. 

The pragmatist in me thinks that, if the cable operators lawfully converted from a citywide to a statewide franchise, and if the new franchise no longer requires them to support PEG facilities (how informed and involved was the public when all that happened?), then it’s probably too late to change things now.   Nevertheless, underneath Full Disclosure’s video is a link to send an email letter to Mayor Villaraigosa, the City Council Members, and other city officials, asking them to prevent this elimination of PEG channels and/or facilities to take effect.  If you care about preserving the full slate of cable PEG channels and facilities in Los Angeles, then it seems to me a good idea at least to lay down a last-minute marker and sign the letter written by Full Disclosure.

UPDATE: According to the City’s Information Technology Agency website, “The Los Angeles City Council will consider the Board of Information Technology Commissioners’ and Municipal Access Policy Board’s Report on the Future of PEG Access in the City of L.A., that will include a discussion of the recommendations and options for Public, Educational and Governmental Access commencing January 1, 2009. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 10:00 AM in Council Chambers, 3rd Floor, Los Angeles City Hall located at 200 N. Main Street, Los Angeles, CA. 90012.” So perhaps this is not yet a done deal, and there is still time to influence the outcome. According to the website, “If you have any questions, please feel free to call the Video Service Regulatory Division of the Information Technology Agency at 213.922.8370.”

4 Replies to “WTF? Cable Operators to Eliminate PEG Access Facilities in L.A.?”

  1. You really didn’t expect them to provide it for free did you?

    The problem is that its a way to eliminate dissenting voices. Already in my area if you are labled a malcontent or not willing to tow the city line on issues you are banned from public access on kgem. I can’t even be on as a guest of an established program.

    Its just more big brother eliminating people speaking out on what govt does.

    People keep forgetting there is no such thing as a benevolant government. Unless we can watch them and speak out when needed we are all sunk. Eliminating public access tv is one more way to silence critics.

  2. Frazgo, I agree completely, and that’s the problem cited by the Full Disclosure folks. Note how one of the PEG channels, 35 on TWC, features the City Council. I’m sure that one is safe from the chopping block.

    As far as providing the facilities for free, that’s what the cable operators agreed to do in their franchises granted by the City years ago. That’s in return for getting their own lucrative cable territory (I won’t use the “M” word). So it’s certainly a radical change, and a sweet deal for the cable companies, to have that obligation removed.

    Of course, “free” is a relative term. The cable companies obviously passed their PEG costs on to their customers. So now we should get a price reduction, right? Don’t hold your breath.

  3. The positive side of me says that this is primarily for budgetary reasons and not to quell dissent. I think viewership of the PEG channels is low enough that this usually wouldn’t be much of a consideration. It is very interesting however. In broadcast law courses I took as an undergraduate, we did discuss that cable channels only need to provide the airtime and not the tools… I might do the same if I was responsible for a budget right about now.

  4. dwr, I see 2 different issues here: the first is the more dire possibility raised by Full Disclosure that the elimination of PEG channels and facilities, and their consolidation in the hands of the City, could, intentionally or not, reduce the diversity of voices in Los Angeles. The second issue I have is: what level of public involvement and public disclosure was involved in the switch from the local to the statewide franchise, especially regarding the cable operators’ ability to abandon their commitment to PEG channels and facilities, which they had agreed to and were required to do for many years under their local franchises?

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