Are public access channels necessary?

by Rusty Tanton, February 13, 2007 - 7:40pm

I meant to write a response to this post from the AJC Political Insider yesterday, but didn't get the time. The gist is:

The question at the core of this to me is what is the role of a public access channel now? Is it an outdated concept since anybody can put a video on Youtube or dozens of other Internet services for free? Or is it still a vital community function by allowing free access to anyone who wants it, particularly to people who can't afford their own equipment, and of keeping people in touch with their communities generally?

I can't say I've watched anything on public access since college, and then it was a show run by two guys who provided commentary on local semi-pro wrestling. I didn't even really keep up with what they were saying, I just thought they were funny. As you can probably guess, I was drunk 100 percent of the time I was watching them.

But that's totally anecdotal. I don't want to project and say that because it isn't particularly valuable to me that it isn't valuable to someone. If anyone can give better examples, I'd love to hear them.

The elitist in me would ask, from a community connectivity standpoint, what's the difference in a government requiring a public access channel or in just posting videos to a free web site? In both cases, there are economic entry barriers to consume that media. A TV costs $100 or more, and monthly service costs $40 or more. A computer with enough power to watch Internet videos can be bought for as little as $200, and monthly broadband Internet service costs about the same as a cable connection. That leaves the question of access to production equipment as the most compelling argument for it to me.

The other point I could name against the legislation is if Comcast and others have to negotiate for those rights locally, isn't that unfair to them? Why should AT&T get that $500 million gift and not Comcast?

The upside is that more competition in the cable/satellite TV market sounds really good to me. Comcast has been awful for me in both Tennessee and Georgia (anecdotal again, but I'm not the only one I've heard complaining), and I firmly believe it's because they're fat and lazy without any real competition to speak of.

Anyway, please help me flesh this out. I waffle all the time on media regulation issues (even net neutrality) because I can see both sides of the argument. Shorter version of pros and cons to me:



Tags: AT&T, Georgia legislature, Net neutrality, public access, television

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gamoonbat's picture

There are still a lot of local political meetings covered on public access television. I used to watch the meetings of the DeKalb County Commission when I lived in Decatur, for example. They were pretty dull, but Hank Johnson was always entertaining and some members continually spar with Vernon Jones. It is hard for me to believe that Hank has now moved up to the U.S. House of Representatives!

Posted on February 15, 2007 - 8:37am

Rusty Tanton's picture
Rusty Tanton

Crazy, ain't it? I worked for a local paper covering DeKalb in 2003, so I sat through the first couple of hours of those meetings every Tuesday. The Elaine-Vernon thing was always an entertaining soap opera. It's not generally as exciting to watch those meetings now without Lou Walker.

I guess the question to me is at what point does public access television become a less efficient delivery mechanism than another medium (like podcasts/vidcast and/or web video)? For me, a podcast would be more efficient, but I know that doesn't mean it would be for everybody.

Posted on February 15, 2007 - 9:02am