Bill would boost public-access channels

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Posted by on October 12, 2009 at 10:56:59:

By SAMARA KALK DERBY | Wisconsin State Journal
Posted: Monday, October 12, 2009 9:30 am

For the past two years, Madison's local community access television station WYOU has been bracing for Jan. 1, 2011, the date it loses its public funding and has to become self-sufficient.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, introduced a bill Thursday aimed at helping the struggling station and other public, education and government (PEG) channels affected when, in December 2007, state lawmakers passed the Video Competition Act. The law deregulated municipal cable franchises and set a date to phase out the funding secured from cable subscribers that has helped support PEG stations.

Baldwin's proposal, called the Community Access Preservation Act of 2009, would help ease problems caused by state and federal cable laws, said Mary Cardona, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of PEG Channels.

"PEG channels are in a real precarious position right now in Wisconsin, and we're hoping that if we get greater protections on a national level, it will help us here at the state level," Cardona said.

The bill would make sure federal cable regulations apply equally to all companies competing for cable customers. It would allow PEG stations to use public fees for any station purpose, not just capital or facilities expenses. It also would require that cable companies not bury PEG stations on their lineups, but place them on channels equivalent to the treatment of standard commercial broadcast channels.

The state's Video Competition Act transferred regulatory oversight of cable contracts from municipalities to the state. It also mandated that the franchise fees paid by cable companies to communities be phased out by Jan. 1, 2011, eliminating funds for PEG channels.

Madison is cutting WYOU's budget a year earlier than when the act takes effect. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz is proposing cutting WYOU'S budget from $140,000 to $70,000 a year in his 2010 operating budget. The city's PEG funding makes up the majority of the station's annual budget.

In response, WYOU is mounting a campaign to raise $15,000 and get City Council members to reinstate the current level of PEG funding. The on-air fundraising drive starts Sunday and runs through Oct. 25.

"If Tammy can save it, that's great," said Ald. Judy Compton, 16th District, one of the more conservative voices on Madison's City Council. But it's not the city's responsibility to fund WYOU, she said.

"It's an independent station," Compton said. "There are plenty of people in this city who would like to see WYOU remain in place, and if that's the case, then they should have no problem donating."

WYOU can be found on Charter cable in most of Dane County on analog channel 95 and digital channel 991.

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