Greg Epler Wood Letter to the FCC regarding potential changes to the cable act

December 17, 2018
MEDIAVOX
369 South Union Street
Burlington, VT 05401
802.861.7364 Greg [at] Mediavox [dot] TV
 
Page 1 of 2
 
The Honorable Ajit V. Pai, Chairman
The Honorable Michael O’Rielly, Commissioner
The Honorable Brendan Carr, Commissioner
The Honorable Jessica Rosenworcel, Commissioner
Federal Communications Commission
455 12 th Street SW
Washington, DC 20544
RE: MB Docket No. 05-311
 
December 14, 2018 [Revised 12/17/2018]
 
Dear Chairman Pai,
I write in support of the comments filed on November 14, 2018 by the Cable Act Preservation
Alliance (“CAPA”), a collaboration of The Alliance for Communications Democracy (“ACD”); the
Alliance for Community Media (“ACM”); and the Cities of Bowie, Maryland; Eugene, Oregon; Palo
Alto, California; and Portland, Maine in response to the Commission’s Second Further Notice of
Proposed Rulemaking (“Second FNPRM”) in this docket.
I have been a strong supporter of, and for many years a manager and leader of PEG Access since
before its inclusion as a permissive condition in cable television franchises in the Cable
Communications Policy Act of 1984. I have also been a first-hand witness of several efforts of the
cable television industry to marginalize and resist PEG Access’ deployment and sustainability, often
very successfully, around the country.
Fortunately, the State of Vermont as the Local Franchising Authority (LFA), supported by many
our communities of concerned citizens understood, and still understands, how important PEG Access’
contribution is to Vermonters’ civic, educational and social engagement, and to their quality of rural
life.
That said, I agree with CAPA that for the cable industry to argue that cable-related in-kind
obligations such as channel space are subject to monetization and should count toward the Franchise
Fee is, in my words, specious and devious. This argument is yet another attempt by the cable industry
to evade its obligations, clearly stated in the Cable Act, to provide for PEG Access if it is part of a
cable franchise agreement, language there with the intent to allow citizens, residents and community
institutions to express their First Amendment voices.
PEG Access has had to rely on predominantly cable television revenues for its existence over the
decades, but at the same time the cable industry has been progressively, aggressively and successfully
avoiding its franchise fee and PEG Access obligations by migrating its commercial programming over
to broadband. This in spite of the fact that it has been using the same public rights of way for the same
cables, fibers and vehicles to carry the same electronic information it always has for nearly a half
century. Many here in Vermont realize that it is cable television subscribers, among all our
telecommunication rate payers, who have exclusively seen PEG Access fees included on their bills;
however, poll after survey poll taken of cable TV subscribers—even one done by Comcast in
2009—indicate an acceptance and awareness of PEG Access and its contribution to their respective
communities.
All 100% of monies of what would be called a “franchise fee” in other municipalities, here in
 
Vermont go directly from cable operators to 25 not-for-profit PEG Access management organizations
under our PUC Rule 8.000. In my opinion, the FCC should have no jurisdiction or legal ability to
override the explicit and implicit intent of the Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC), nor of the
Cable Communications Act of 1984 with regard to franchising, PEG Access obligations, PEG channel
requirements and the First Amendment rights of the non-commercial “speakers” on those channels.
I am certain you’re already aware of how the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy,
with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg concurring, regarded PEG Access in his Concur/Dissent opinion in
Denver Area Educ. Telecommunications Consortium v. FCC: that PEG Access is a public forum.
Twelve years earlier, the House Report for the 1984 Cable Act itself said that public access channels
are “the video equivalent of the speaker's soapbox or the electronic parallel to the printed leaflet. They
provide groups and individuals who generally have not had access to the electronic media with the
opportunity to become sources of information in the electronic marketplace of ideas.” [H. R. Rep. No.
98–934, at 30.] In spite of, and even because of the rise of social media since those writings,
individual voices at the local community level are being lost in a cacophony of unorganized and
decentralized chatter. Vermont’s PEG Access is a model of focused, media-literate programming
produced by and relevant to each local community.
I urge the FCC Commissioners to protect the basic principles and the explicit conditions of
current law, as well as the rights of states and franchising authorities to protect and sustain their PEG
Access operations. There is no documented and settled proof of any PEG Access abuses by LFAs
from which cable operators need protection. Rather, it is PEG Access itself that needs protection.
Sincerely,
 
Gregory EplerWood
 
File: GEW Ltr to FCC Docket

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