PEG Access Centers Closing at Alarming Rate

By Cecilia Garcia

Benton and our friends at the Alliance for Communications Democracy (ACD) wanted to get a feel for the state of public, educational and government (PEG) access across the nation. We wanted to see if PEG channels are realizing the promise and optimism expressed back in 1984 by the House Commerce Committee in a report that set forth the reason why these channels are so important.

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.
- Source: House of Representatives Report 98-934 (August 1, 1984), Page 30

ACD and the Buske Group set out to gauge the health and well-being of PEG access. The results of their study are in and are disheartening to say the least. Since 2005, PEG access centers in 100 communities have closed. The overwhelming majority of these are public access centers, rather than educational or government channels seen on local cable systems. California has been particularly hard-hit, with 51 closures throughout the state.

Nearly half of those survey respondents who provided financial information for the five-year period of the study (2005 -2010) reported an average funding decrease of nearly 40 percent. Also, 20 percent of those who reported in-kind support from their cable operators reported that in-kind materials and services had been cut back or eliminated during this five-year period.

Interesting to note that more than half of the closures occurred in communities served by Comcast, just as the cable giant was preparing for its merger with NBC Universal. But cable operators were not acting alone here. This study indicates that these PEG closures and cutbacks happened mainly as a result of new state franchising laws, as well as decisions by local governments.

This study also sounds the alarm for the next round of possible closures and reductions. Some 165 respondents reported that they expect reductions in funding or elimination of all services over the next three years.

I just sent a copy of the study to the board of directors of my local public access center, urging them to take these findings seriously and to protect this important resource for my community. Others are sharing this study with policymakers at the federal, state and local levels. Research like this is only valuable if it becomes a tool for change. Hopefully we’ve started a conversation here that will result in moving more of us to action to recapture the promise of PEG access.