The Future of Local Public Access Television Stations



In this era of global and social media, you can get a taste of what’s going on in every corner of the world. However, some of the best happenings are right in your own backyard; local government, local sports and school activities and everyday interesting people and events in your city. 


Coverage of all this activity keeps people informed and entertained where they live. Public access television has historically been a viable way to provide communities with non-mainstream programming.


To support local programming The Cable Communications Act of 1984 was created, giving a local town or city government, the authority to require a cable operator to provide television channels that are designated for Public, Educational and Government use, called “PEG” for short.


The number of designated stations, their funding and who will run them is listed in a 10-15 year franchise agreement, between the cable provider and the locale that is usually negotiated through a series of public meetings.


Also a franchise fee, which by law can be no greater than 5 percent of the television portion of your monthly cable bill, provides the funding for PEG channels.


Beginning in the 1980s, cable providers usually built, equipped and managed the studio while training local residents on how to utilize equipment and produce their own shows.


In general, local residents did not have much input into the day-to-day operation of PEG stations and in the New England states, a couple of mergers and buyouts negatively impacted local PEG stations.


In the mid-2000s, many of the 10-15 year franchise agreements were coming up for renewal. At the time, Comcast made it clear that it wanted to put the day –to-day operation of PEG channels and local access studios into the hands of the local community.


As part of the renewal contract, the PEGs were required to establish the station as a non-profit organization in order to operate. The franchise fee that Comcast collected would then be sent directly to the cities for the support of the PEG non-profit.


By being an independent non-profit, PEGS now operated with a board of directors and the flexibility to quickly make decisions regarding viewership and membership, without the longer processes in dealing with the local government.


A prime example of a successful public access television station is San Francisco’s KQED, which was overseen by the government but transitioned into non-profit leadership.


A weekly formula of covering an event one week and airing it the next week is what many PEGs follow when videotaping on-location local youth sports, concerts and other community events.


Locals seeing locals on television usually peaks the interest of even more aspiring producers.


Oakland has two educational channels KDOL TV and a government channel KTOP but No Public Access channel.


According to Bishop, J.E. Watkins, Founder/CEO of OWH Studios, (Overcomers With Hope Studios), a local 501c3 television production studio that trains at risk youth, young adults and veterans in Television/Broadcast Digital Arts Media, Oakland is missing a huge opportunity that is not being utilized.


“Funding is earmarked for PEG stations,” said Watkins. “Why doesn’t Oakland have a public access channel?” Watkins also says there is an annual budget in the City of Oakland that is not used each year for a public access television station.


Watkins states he has been asking the question of the City of Oakland and council members for several years now as he has built a first class state of the art broadcast ready studio in West Oakland in the historic Marcus Garvey Building.


“With donated state of the art 2K and 4K equipment, students are trained on the latest technology available to create broadcast quality programming for air right now at OWH,” he said. “This creates jobs and opportunity for people living right here.”


With a robust training program, modern equipment, and a community of dedicated volunteers, Watkins feels OWH is well prepared to fill the public access void in Oakland. With his team of industry professional producers, directors, videographers and a library of locally produced shows to air, he hopes his dream of expanding opportunity in Oakland’s media and exposure to the world can be fulfilled.


Part II of this article will focus on OWH Studios, the lives it has transformed with its training program and the need for a public access channel in Oakland.



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