FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 6, 2019
Contact: Patrick Cody, Executive Director
(802) 228-8808; pcodyokemovalley.tv
Threats to Funding Spur Action Locally
Community access TV stations across the country are facing a serious threat to their primary funding source, cable TV “franchise fees”, following a federal rule change. Last month, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) voted to approve a rule change in the way the fees are calculated. The “franchise fees” are charged to cable companies in exchange for their use of public lands and rights-of-way. In Vermont, they are earmarked specifically for community access TV, formally known as “Public, Educational, & Government (PEG) Access” (as defined by the 1984 Cable Act, and still the law of the land). The new rule change is expected to result in a significant loss in franchise fee revenue for the community stations not just in Vermont, but nationwide.
Locally, Okemo Valley TV cut its operating budget by 10% this year (starting July 1), in anticipation of the rule change, which was long-expected to pass. This comes on top of an unexpected 7% loss of franchise fee revenue the station began to experience last year, as a result of a change in the way that the area’s (and nation’s) largest cable provider, Comcast, accounts for the franchise fees.
To address the losses in revenue, the station is scaling back on its open hours by 7 hours per week. Beginning September 16th, the stations new hours of operations will be 10-5 on Mondays, Wednesdays, & Fridays, and 10-7 on Tuesdays & Thursdays. Okemo Valley TV’s Patrick Cody says they “have known for some time that we need to diversify our funding in a sustainable, meaningful way, and we’ve been working towards that. We also have to accept the impact of these latest hits and address them head-on”. He estimates that this reduction will account for most of this year’s budget cut.
The FCC rule change, on top of the other threats to franchise fee funding, is forcing organizations such as Okemo Valley TV to take action on its own and seek out solutions moving forward. The extent to which the FCC rule change will affect the bottom line of each organization is still a little hazy, but Kevin Christopher, President of Vermont Access Network (the statewide membership & advocacy organization), offers, “we’re preparing for dramatic shifts in funding and operations.” The Vermont Access Network has helped to create the PEG Access Study Committee to help bring attention to the funding issues and to help find solutions. In an acknowledgement of the valuable role community access TV plays in Vermont, the committee was formed by the legislature during the past session and charged with the task of identifying viable new funding sources to help the long-term viability of community / PEG access TV.
“Now, more than ever, we need support from volunteers so that we can continue to put out the amazing diversity of community programming”, said Okemo Valley TV Board President Francis DeVine. The station welcomes community members to create programming of their own, providing equipment and offering training to those interested. Its two cable channels are found on Comcast 8 & 10, in Ludlow, Plymouth, & Cavendish, and Comcast 20 & 21 in Mount Holly. On VTel, Okemo Valley TV is on channels 166 and 167 system-wide. Program schedules and local programming can also be found online at okemovalley.tv. For more information or to get involved, call 228-8808 or visit the station’s website.