Presidents Move On Local Media And Cable Access Is Bad For Small Business And Consumers

On Wednesday, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer (pictured) and City Council Member Francisco Moya condemned the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to limit local governments’ ability to use cable franchise agreements.

The cable franchise agreements benefit local public, educational, and governmental (“PEG”) cable access channels, and introduced a City Council resolution at this week’s Stated Council Meeting calling on the Federal Communications Commission to reject the proposed rules.

“These rules would kneecap local cable access channels and local governments, just to pad the cable giants’ bottom line by a relatively tiny amount. It would also further hamstring our ability to protect online consumers, online privacy, and net neutrality at the local level…”

“Just like with net neutrality, the Trump FCC is considering something almost nobody wants, for no good reason,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “These rules would kneecap local cable access channels and local governments, just to pad the cable giants’ bottom line by a relatively tiny amount. It would also further hamstring our ability to protect online consumers, online privacy, and net neutrality at the local level. The only kind of person I could think of who’d actually go to the trouble of pushing these new rules is somebody who’s genuinely afraid of local media, local cable access programming, and a free internet.”

“It’s no surprise that this FCC proposal is nothing more than a naked handout to corporate giants. The absurdity of this policy is that the potential profits cable giants turn would be nominal at best, but to public, educational, and governmental programming, that money is everything,” said Council Member Francisco Moya. “The proposal is a flagrant overstepping by the federal government and paralyzes the authority of states and municipalities from negotiating their own franchise agreements — this from a president’s administration whose own party starts and ends sentences with ‘states’ rights.’ What we’re seeing here is yet another example of the Trump administration’s embrace of corporate interests and its compulsive betrayal of the public good.”

If adopted, the proposed rules would:

  • Count the dollar value of “in-kind” services provided by cable operators to PEG channels against the five percent legal cap on franchise fees, reducing the revenue that could be directed to PEG channels under franchise agreements.
  • Preclude local governments from charging cable providers a percentage for revenue from “non-cable services,” more accurately described as “non-television services,” such as paid streaming television service provided for an extra fee in lieu of conventional cable television service.
  • Limit local governments’ ability to use franchise agreements to negotiate other policy concessions, such as online privacy guarantees, net neutrality, and other consumer protections.

Cable access organizations like Manhattan Neighborhood Network in Harlem play a vital role providing media education in the community, adding to the city’s civic and cultural life while helping many New Yorkers acquire skills they can use in the workplace or in their communities. MNN alone is the city’s largest nonprofit media educator, serving more than 1,200 students per year and airing 15,000 hours of original content from more than 1,000 contributors.

Cable access channels also provide critical opportunities for the creation and dissemination of programming on local government at a time when discussion of neighborhood-level issues and local public affairs content is harder and harder to find. In just a few years, the city has seen community newspapers bought, sold, and consolidated, and has been rocked by mass layoffs at the Daily News and the retaliatory closure of DNAinfo after its workforce’s successful unionization campaign.

Brewer and Moya’s City Council resolution was introduced Wednesday as Res. No. 620. The proposed rules are contained in the FCC’s Second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 18-131.

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