All cable-related news coverage published by The
Times may be found in the archives.
Cable Access Channel Offers Public
By Nelson Sigelman
For people familiar with public access television,
the potential future benefits of a Martha's Vineyard public access
television corporation are as rich and varied as the
On any given day television viewers might find a
cooking class, a show devoted to some aspect of Vineyard arts, a
tour of a particular Island conservation property, or programming
aimed at senior viewers, even live televised town and regional
On Friday, Dec. 15, at 7 pm, in the Oak Bluffs School
community room, Nancy Richard, executive director of Plymouth Area
Community Television (PACTV) will describe the successful effort to
create a nonprofit public access corporation that serves the two
South Shore towns of Kingston and Plymouth.
The presentation is
sponsored by the Martha's Vineyard cable access board (CAB) and The
Martha's Vineyard Times.
John Alley, CAB chairman, said he is
enthusiastic about Ms. Richard's visit. He said the PACTV experience
shows what can be done when there is the interest.
"I hope it
will spur interest among those folks who are interested in PEG
(public, educational, and government) access, said Mr. Alley. "It
has enormous potential for the Vineyard."
Mr. Alley said that
following the discussion people would be invited to participate in a
planning effort to create a Martha's Vineyard public access
television corporation once contract negotiations are
For now, Island cable television subscribers who tune
into cable channel 8, the Vineyard's only public access channel,
will find an unrelenting parade of paid classified advertising
interspersed with occasional local shows, mostly sports, produced
under less than favorable conditions.
Under the terms of a new
cable franchise agreement currently being negotiated with Adelphia
Communications, the Island's current cable television provider, that
The Island's cable advisory board, made up of one
appointed member from each of the six towns, has been responsible
for negotiating a new contract. A key focus of those talks has been
the establishment of a public access television corporation similar
to successful models across the state that would be funded based on
5 percent of the company's gross annual revenues.
Mr. Alley, West
Tisbury selectman and newly elected Dukes County commissioner, said
PEG access "will likely end up being the centerpiece of the
PACTV Offers a Model
This week Ms. Richard said she looks forward to
describing how Plymouth and Kingston created a public access
television corporation, built and equipped a studio, and created a
variety of community programming.
Ms. Richard said that when
companies like Adelphia are responsible for providing public access,
for the most part it receives short shrift because it is not the
main focus. She said in the case of PACTV, "community access is our
primary job, this is what we do, and it is incumbent upon us to do a
Ms. Richard said selectmen's meetings in both towns
are broadcast live, as are other local meetings. Town meetings also
receive live coverage.
In an example of locally produced
programming that serves the public interest, every other week the
town moderator produces a show that focuses on the inside working of
town government. Ms. Richard said shows that review important issues
help inform the electorate.
Ms. Richard said nonprofit groups do
a great deal to promote their respective charities. They include the
Rotary Club, which produces an annual televised auction fundraiser,
and the Chamber of Commerce.
She estimated that approximately 70
percent of the programs are locally produced. Subjects include
cooking, sports, religion, and senior issues. She said PACTV
concentrates its energies on government access, public access, and
She said PACTV receives 3 percent of Adelphia's
gross revenues and has an operating budget of approximately
$350,000. There are four full-time and two part-time staff
Members pay an annual membership fee of $20 and receive
free training and access to studio equipment and facilities. There
are approximately 275 members of the corporation.
She said it is
important for communities contemplating public access to understand
the possibilities. Oftentimes, she said, they do not realize "there
is more out there and they can do better."
She said it helps to
have knowledgeable people who know what to ask for and how to get
it. "You can get more from Adelphia if you know to ask for it," she
But she said another critical factor in creating a
successful public access corporation, particularly in the early
stages, is a core group of volunteers really interested in making it
happen. PACTV is guided by a nine-member board of directors
appointed and elected from the membership.
Ms. Richard says the
hardest part is getting the corporation off the ground and running.
After that there is considerable momentum.
She said the executive
director needs to be someone who has a lot of energy and understands
public access but also knows how to run a business.
"You have to
get the corporation off on solid ground," she said. "It's a process,
and in our case it took two years."
She added, "We try to
demystify the process of making TV. Once you do that it changes the
whole way people view television."
Other Towns Offer Models
Ms. Richard's visit was arranged by Lauren Horton
of Oak Bluffs, a volunteer with a keen interest in the work of the
advisory board largely because of her previous experience with cable
television and PEG access in Bidford, N.H.
Ms. Horton, who
started Bidford's cable access station, said community television
has the potential to bring people together and provide information
about important local issues on the Vineyard. The catalyst in
Bidford, she said, was local politics.
Ms. Horton envisions a
Vineyard station where, on any given night, people will be able to
watch a local meeting or tune into a program of local
Ms. Horton said there is a wealth of local talent and
creativity on the Vineyard that can be tapped for a public access
channel. She said, "The more people involved the better it
She said she hopes next week's meeting will be the start
of bringing a core group of people together who can begin to move
forward in a positive direction.
Other examples of successful
public access corporations include Falmouth, where Adelphia provides
funding for the Falmouth Community Television corporation
(www.fctv.org.). The independent, nonprofit channel provides
individuals and community groups with training in the use of
broadcast equipment, and it broadcasts a rich menu of local
On one show, "Audible Local Ledger," viewers with
difficulty reading can tune in and listen as someone reads the town
newspaper. Another program, "Give Us Shelter," produced by the
Mashpee Animal Shelter, showcases pets for adoption.
also a live broadcast of the weekly Falmouth selectmen's meeting and
taped broadcasts of Cape Cod Commission meetings and school
This fall in the Cape town of Sandwich, a
group of residents set up Sandwich Area Community Access Television
Inc. (SACAT), a nonprofit corporation, to take over the operation of
the public access channel from Adelphia. Town selectmen have given
their approval, clearing the way for approximately $250,000 in
funding for the nonprofit from Adelphia.
Cable Contract Progress
It has been more than two months since a six-month
contract extension with Adelphia expired, and more than one year
since the CAB held its first and last public meeting to discuss
cable-related issues or PEG access at a license renewal hearing held
last December. The cable giant had been operating under the terms of
a six-month contract extension granted by each town when the
previous 15-year contract expired in April. The contract extension
expired on Oct. 1 and the Island towns agreed to a four-month
The negotiating effort got off to a late start last
fall and continued in fits and starts throughout the spring and
Friday's presentation by Ms. Richard is the CAB's first
attempt since last January to bring together Islanders who might be
interested in PEG access or be able to contribute their
expertise. Mr. Alley said he hopes Friday's meeting will lead
to further public discussion about what the framework of a public
access corporation designed to meet the needs of the Vineyard
community might be.
Asked about the current state of
negotiations, Mr. Alley said there is progress on some of the
"We're getting close," he said.
moment, the contract negotiations are in the hands of CAB attorney
Mr. Epstein has advised numerous towns, including
Falmouth, in their contract negotiations with cable
Mr. Alley said Mr. Epstein is in the process of
"whittling down the areas of disagreement. When he feels it is about
together then the board will meet to go over it."
He said school
officials have agreed in principal to have the PEG access studio
located at the regional high school. That would allow both students
and the public to take advantage of the facility.
In a two-page
letter to Island selectmen dated Oct. 10, Mr. Epstein reported on
the status of outstanding cable contract issues.
outlined the nine major contract points of discussion and agreement.
They included an agreement from Adelphia to provide PEG funding, but
the company insisted it would be free to pass those costs along to
The actual ability of communities to regulate what
services cable companies must provide and at what cost is limited.
The CAB has no authority over cable rates or
Adelphia also agreed to make three channels,
including Channel 8, available for PEG access and to provide
"origination" points in each town.
Mr. Alley said the origination
points would essentially be socket connections in selected town
buildings, all of the schools, and regional meeting halls such as
the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown and the Grange Hall in West
Tisbury. He said that would allow the broadcast of live programming
such as town meetings.