By Cor Trowbridge
Last year, Brattleboro Community Television went before select boards in our service area for the first time to request funding to support video coverage of municipal meetings and Representative Town Meeting.
The request was initiated in response to a proposed change by the Federal Communications Commission to the Cable Act, which established cable subscriber fees as the primary source of support for public access television in 1984. Despite thousands of letters filed in opposition, the change was passed and went into effect on Sept. 26, 2019.
While it appears that the funding decline from this action will materialize less precipitously than we feared, there is no question that revenues traditionally collected from cable subscriber fees will continue to decrease over time due to this change and two powerful national trends:
1.Cord-cutting by cable viewers for online streaming sources
2.Anti-regulatory pressure by telecom corporations
Therefore, to ensure that we can provide the services that residents rely on, BCTV will continue to request funding support from the municipalities we serve.
In October, you may have read about the settlement of a lawsuit between Comcast and the Vermont Public Utilities Commission that resolved issues related to public access television that arose during the company’s CPG renewal in 2017. As this and the FCC action were in the news at the same time, there was some confusion from the Reformer’s headline (“Comcast agreement protects public access television”) as to whether the agreement with the PUC meant our funding was no longer threatened.
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This is not the case, as the lawsuit addressed primarily technical issues.
Therefore, BCTV has issued a funding request from the eight towns we serve for FY21. The request doesn’t cover the cost of the service but helps fill the gap created by the decline in cable subscriber fees. This will allow towns to continue to have regular select board meetings and Representative Town Meeting covered without additional charge, along with residents being able to use BCTV’s equipment and facilities to create their own shows.
In light of these trends, BCTV’s board and staff are working to diminish our financial dependence on local cable subscriber fees. Though over 50 percent of our viewers access our programs online, BCTV receives no compensation from streaming views. We are asking producers who use our facilities to pitch in, along with reaching out to the community to increase donations and underwriting.
Next year, BCTV will mark 45 years as your community TV station. Our mission is to promote civic engagement and transparency and empower community members to share their knowledge, views, and creativity, without prejudice. We want to remain an indispensable connector of our community, available on all current platforms, airing and archiving important town meetings “gavel-to-gavel” and covering local events so that viewers can participate in community life — wherever, however, and whenever you want.
We are grateful to the select boards and local voters who supported BCTV when we came before you, recognizing the value of the resource that BCTV provides. We are tremendously grateful to our donors and underwriters, who gave more than ever before during our first-ever funding appeal. And to our local producers, who create 1,000 hours of award-winning local programs each year, and who accepted an increase in our membership fees without question. Without you, there is no BCTV.
Will BCTV be here for our 50th? Stay tuned.
Cor Trowbridge is the executive director at Brattleboro Community Television for the past 14 years. She can be reached at 802-257-0888. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.
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