The Interogs Have Been Issued Question One


Describe and discuss the current funding structures for both community access organizations’ operational and capital needs, including the similarities and differences in the operations and funding structures of non-profit and for-profit community access provide?

PURA STUDY | NONPROFIT COMMUNITY ACCESS TELEVISION IN CT |1st Question to all participants
DISCUSSION OF ‘AS IS’ SCENARIO FOR OPERATION & FUNDING COMMUNITY MEDIA IN CT

Nonprofits are interested in providing what people cannot provide for themselves. Some have expanded their capacity to be media centers. For-profits are interested in meeting the minimum required for regulatory compliance. For evidence, review who remained open during COVID. Who did more, differently? Testimony from Nutmeg TV included an exploration of what is, or is not available, from For-Profit Community TV in CT  (Download from here.)

Understanding what community TV is, is foundational to understanding funding structures.

WHAT IS P.E.G? COMMUNITY ACCESS TELEVISION? COMMUNITY MEDIA?

A majority of CT residents have no idea that there are laws, regulations, and grandfathered agreements to use public rights of way for the commercial carriage of television content. Or, that within these arrangements with broadband companies (formerly cable TV); there is mandatory support for alternative content: Theirs.

Public, Education, and Government Access (P.E.G) is noncommercial content created by and for people within a community to be carried on cable TV. While some content can be of interest to more people than those residing in the geographic area served, the emphasis within each component of P.E.G. is expected to be local.

(P) Individuals and groups’ ideas, information, and opinions as well as a showcase for local talent,

(E) Content to enhance, augment or amplify local education resources, and

(G) Meetings and related activities in support of transparency in government.

Community media is expected to be narrow: serving a variety of communities of interest i.e. culture, neighborhood, need, or a common goal, or interest, while simultaneously providing exposure to a community’s diversity and opportunities. As a platform for public engagement and an exchange of ideas, community television pre-dates the Public Internet @1983 and social media (early 2000s). Its regulations (1972, 1984, 1992) are rooted in the desire to preserve local 1 and be equitably distributed.

The language morphed from P.E.G. to ‘Community Access’ providing incremental clarity of the purpose: to provide a means of accessing one’s community by participating in its conversations, storytelling, and creation of archival records. Today, the term ‘cable TV’ appears most relevant in proceedings related to limiting the scope of funding for rights-of-way uses. And while first-play policies are in place for content produced with community media resources, funded in large part with subscriber cable fees, content distribution can be simultaneously over the internet, and redistributed over a variety of platforms. The content belongs to the producer. In fact, content viewing on alternate platforms including on-demand may exceed cable TV views much like other cable television. Financial support for other platforms may not be covered by cable subscriber fees.

Funding and Fundraising: The dilemma

Any conversations about how Community Media is currently funded, and the subscriber fee, may hit upon the following themes:

  • A fee on the bill seems more like a tax than a lease-like cost for the companies.
  • Why do I need to pay for P.E.G., if I do not care about it, or view it?
  • We do not need another tax.
  • The polls use everyone’s rights-of-way, why can’t I get the content too?
  • Television is dying, so your funding will evaporate, but those polls are not going away, right?
  • I thought I could not use the community TV studio because I do not have cable TV.
  • How come I have never heard of this before? Should there be something in my bill?
  • I checked the channel out. How come it does not look as clear as the others?
  • How do I watch you? Oh, I do not have cable TV.
  • I do not get how this all works. I have ideas and opinions but no interest in learning how to use a camera.
  • How can I watch at a different time than scheduled? That has real value for me.
CT-SPECIFIC CATV INFRASTRUCTURE WIDENED CRACKS

It would help if you all were on the same page.

CT State Representative

The absence of county government inclines CT toward town-rule which has contributed, in part, to our patchwork community media delivery. Connecticut (CT) has the most complex, inequitable mechanism for providing (P.E.G) Access, and related funding, in the nation. This is ironic due to the appearance of universal availability and cost-effective centralized administration touted as the outcome of cable-company driven 1995 legislative changes.

Twenty-five years ago structural changes were made to community media in CT akin to constructing a highway through an inner city. There was a presumption of service to all with a guarantee of P.E.G. in every town in CT. However, the heart of community media, ‘The People’ for whom the tools & stage presumed to belong, were disenfranchised.

The appeal of technological innovation and personal freedom, which was originally called the community media advocates by name, is now under study.  A study, in retrospect, was needed in 1995 when the seismic shift was codified. The discontinuance of franchise renewals further exacerbated the ‘disconnect’ with communities. The few remaining knowledgeable advocates are aging out of a system that is not designed to serve the media makers of today and the future. And those most familiar with the purpose are invested differently.

Other states in the northeast continue to have cable franchises centralized in population-dense areas serving surrounding communities. The cable access providers work together on a variety of operational and policy matters having no infrastructure-infused competition for funding. These arrangements, similarly impacted by the decline in cable subscriptions, have a base funding structure that at a minimum is 250% more than CT.

Most of the nonprofits which have affiliated around a push for change in the funding mechanisms in CT are not active in the national Alliance For Community Media (ACM). ACM is an educational, advocacy, and lobbying member organization that represents P.E.G. organizations and community media centers throughout the country. CT’s 1995 statewide regulatory changes lessened the advocacy potential of this professional alliance.

In reality, ours is a hodgepodge of corporate, regional, town, and mixed-service applications with a variety of channel capacity allocations and decades-old benchmarks for capacity, function, and service.

There is an easy way to determine who and where your community TV station is. While every community has been guaranteed the service, there is no public reference with every town identified and the affiliated community television station, not even on PURA’s website. In Wallingford, the town government refuses to include any reference to WPAA-TV on its website exacerbating this hidden-from-view scenario further.

There is also no easy way to search, and find existing community TV channels and the affiliated cable access providers and facilities. The Comcast TV Channel Guide does not refer to community access as such. The channel descriptions are ‘Local’, ‘Educational Programming’, and ‘Government Access Programming’ respectively. P.E.G channels are no longer guaranteed to be grouped together.

OUTCOME: A LACK OF CONSENSUS

On at least two occasions, CT has seen self-appointed CAP alliances emerge, fostered by declining subscriber fee funding challenges. The most impactful were those aligning to support funding for technology that evolved into the passage of PEGPETIA (not supported by all CAPs). The most recent was the alliance called “Regional Community Access Providers” whose legislative initiatives (seeking streaming media fees) eventuated into this study.  In some ways this ‘out if the designated structure’ advocacy begs the question, what is the role of Advisory Councils?

Uniquely tribal, CT nonprofit CAPs (designated and independent) exist on a starvation diet and compete for scarce capital improvement funds in an unpredictable cycle-driven, regulated landscape a.k.a. PEGPETIA.  Survival requires putting hyperlocal, territorial interests above collaborative considerations.

A few negative impacts:

  • Channel Capacity Inequity: Three TV Channels can serve a small town such as No. Branford, or the combined urban communities of New Haven, Hamden, and West Haven.
  • Capital investments are purchased at a premium with the inability to leverage sales and discounts.
  • The ‘no reimbursement’ policy of capital funding restricts purchase timelines and strategic planning such as relocation which requires the implementation of a new return line.
  • Strategic efforts have been challenged by cycles, sweeps, and caps.
  • Some technology vendors maximize the funding cycle blips.
  • Industry technology is HD, or better, but channel transmission capacity is SD

For more information: https://wpaa.tv/if-nothing-but-consistent/  Sept 22 What Are We Trying To Solve? CT Community Media?

  1. The Federal Communications Commission first established rules in 1965 for cable systems that received signals from microwave antennas.  In 1966, the Commission established rules for all cable systems (whether or not served by microwave).  The Supreme Court affirmed the Commission’s jurisdiction over cable in United States v. Southwestern Cable Co., 392 U.S.  157 (1968).  The Court ruled that “the Commission has reasonably concluded that regulatory authority over CATV is imperative if it is to perform with appropriate effectiveness certain of its responsibilities.”  The Court found the Commission needed authority over cable systems to assure the preservation of local broadcast service and to effect an equitable distribution of broadcast services among the various regions of the country.
  2. Interested in the cable company perspective: Docket Response from NECTA here.
  3. A comparison of the company versus nonprofit structure and operations expectations follows.

Celebration Of Voices


WPAA-TV believes in uplifting the voices of our local producers. And we are not alone in thinking the programs produced for WPAA-TV are good stuff. 

Congrats to all the winners. The New England Alliance For Community Media judges chose 8 of our 10 submissions as finalists in the Nor’Easter Festival.


Taking top honors was Mike Schleif for animated cartoons in the categories Arts & Theater and  Instructional & Training: Space Bears The Movie and Drawing with Mandy: Lantern


When I Speak Freely, the youth winner of the Democracy 2022 Civic Life Project Film Challenge and the National Hometown Festival was a 2nd place Finalist in the all-ages category in the Nor’easter: About Access.

Celebrating Local Creators WPAA-TV Winners Reel


The MakingItArtisan$tories Crew was a  Finalist in Diversity Empowerment & Performance with How Love Begat a Book JoJo’s Tiny Ear Author Stephania and The Evolution of SUEÃNOS by Anatar Marmol-Gagne. Georgian Lussier, was a finalist in Profile Talk for her show MidLife Matters featuring Nonprofit Leader Sandie Lavoy and as guest host in conversation with Matthew Bailey of B.C. Funeral Home in the category of Science, Health, and Spirituality. WPAA-TV’s 2021 Annual Report Celebration of Voices WPAA-TV was again recognized for overall excellence.

The Study | Question Four To All Participants


Provide and discuss recommendations regarding how to effectuate the consolidations of community access operations to ensure that any recommended increase to the remaining community access organizations’ operational and capital budgets is at minimum net neutral to the average funding collected from the applicable franchise area.

PURA STUDY | NONPROFIT COMMUNITY ACCESS TELEVISION IN CT | 4th Question to all participants

Full-scale consolidation is not an optimal choice for nonprofit CAPs. However, selective modifications to our configuration could optimize services, increase our relevance and be cost-effective while maintaining the unique characteristics of CT’s diverse communities.

Recommendation 1: Review Channel Capacity and reallocation of Education content to the Public and Government Channels, if current channel use does not directly support local education programs. School Sports can be Public. BOE Meetings can be Government.

Are there communities with more channel capacity than needed?  Yes

Are there CAPS that have never been able to provide the targeted 13-play threshold? Yes.

In 2005, channel capacity was reviewed without consensus: Docket 05-09-07  DPUC Review of Regulations Regarding the Required Number of Community Access Channels. Regional and town-specific access centers held very different views then. That has not changed. But detailed scrutiny of services will show that our state has some vital community media and much that is stuck in the last century. We can do better. Updating to HD, stabilizing funding and processes, and reviewing the extreme sizes, large and small for reconfigurations that serve local cost-effectively.

Since 2005, the technology landscape has changed significantly. Community media stations need the same capacity as other cable channels to be viewed in accordance with viewer habits and lifestyles. Viewers are highly unlikely to watch a 20-minute  bulletin board scroll of announcements when they can instantly search for information, or post a question in a social media forum. Snow closing announcements are no longer the hallmark of education channels. The short-form video has a significantly greater potential to be viewed than long-form but good short-form is more labor intensive.

Scheduling a channel 24 x7 with short-form content is very labor-intensive. It can take a minimum of three times longer to schedule a public channel that is supporting short-form content than a government channel with hours of meeting coverage.

Recommendation 2: Eliminate Advisory Council. The role of the Advisory Council has been diminished with the elimination of franchise renewals. Consumer cases no longer are handled by them. Most are not fully appointed. They have not actively represented community media providers in any regulatory capacity. Company government relations representatives no longer attend more than the minimum of two meetings per year.

The $2,000 and the cost of government relations participation and overall communications could help reduce the annual company costs.

Recommendation 3:  Consolidate organizations that already share resources and distribute nearly identical content.

Recommendation 4:  Encourage the transition of corporate-run to nonprofit-run centers such that independent centers affiliated with corporate are fully enabled to serve their communities and build upon their strong volunteer resources.

Recommendation 5: Adhere to the outcomes of the dockets such as reviewed PEGPETIA administration 071011re01-102319.

The Study | Question Three To All Participants


Provide and discuss recommendations regarding the state-wide consolidation of community access operations, including any benefits or detriments, or both, associated with such recommendations;

PURA STUDY | NONPROFIT COMMUNITY ACCESS TELEVISION IN CT | 3rd Question to all participants

WPAA-TV’s governance team sees no community benefit to collapsing the corporate areas of Comcast into Comcast-CT. They do support review of channel allocation and optimization of services where there is cross-over.

What is the meaning of state-wide consolidation?

This question is challenging because the key terms are undefined.

Is it correct to assume that this means something like a Comcast-CT, Cox-CT, Cablevision-CT, Charter-CT, Breezeline-CT, and the ‘going out of the cable TV business” Frontier-CT which has a statewide configuration? What would state-wide include: facility locations, channel allocations, subscriber rate adjustments, merging and/or dissolving non-profits? Would it influence the number of physical locations for media making?

Wallingford is in Comcast Branford.


For the purpose of this reply, statewide is assumed to mean Comcast CT including Comcast Bethel, Comcast Branford, Comcast Clinton, Comcast Danbury, Comcast Groton, Comcast Hartford, Comcast Lakeville, Comcast Lyme, Comcast Middletown, Comcast New Haven, Comcast Norwich, Comcast Plainville, Comcast Seymour, Comcast Vernon, and Comcast Waterbury.


Treating each cable company’s territories collectively as one: Who benefits?

The inclination to consider new ways to achieve broad & potentially better results is understandable. You no longer need a helicopter and cameraman to produce aerial photography; it can be achieved with a drone with some previously unachievable results. However, a panoramic view literally passes over, without giving due attention, to the meaning and purpose of the existence of P.E.G. which is to be on the ground, and hyperlocal.

In CT, we have franchise areas that represent cable company territory. These areas do not align with voting districts, regional councils of government, community foundations or arts councils, or other intersectional community connections. The absence of county government inclines CT towards town rule which contributed, in part, to the hodgepodge nature of community media delivery and any prior, or current, ideas of consolidation.

In the last franchise for what is now, Comcast Branford regional consolidation was among the options reviewed. The franchise outcome eliminated the regional company-run access station. Independent access centers’ funding and obligations increased. A 10-year franchise was awarded to AT&T. The obligation to minimally fund small communities was shifted to the larger towns and would be reassessed in the next franchise proceeding by the independent 3rd party evaluator. Absent an independent assessment, the small communities suggested they needed to be subsidized, the new cable company chose not to comment, and the burden of minimal operating expenses remained with the towns of Branford and Wallingford rather than the cable company (DOCKET NO. 10-03-02). Selective mergers were recommended at this time to remove the burden on Wallingford, in particular, and provide adequate funding for consolidated entities.

Greater Wallingford Community:  Voter Connections

Wallingford is represented in US Congress in District 3 which is the most diverse region of CT, with many Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish, Greek, Asian, Hispanic (Ecuadorian), Refugees from Middle Eastern & Africa, and African-American (oldest community Newhallville). Since reapportionment, the district includes Naugatuck Valley (the largest Portuguese-American community) and coastal towns (Guilford, Milford, and Stratford). More info here.

Wallingford is represented in the state legislature with other communities as follows:  Senate District 34:  New Haven County – Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Branford, Derby, East Haven, Guilford, Hamden, Milford, Naugatuck, New Haven, North Branford, North Haven, Orange, Prospect, Seymour, Wallingford, Waterbury (part), West Haven, Woodbridge, and  Middlesex County – Durham, Middlefield, and Middletown (part).  Our state representatives are elected by voters in Cheshire, No. Branford and Middlefield (85th, 86th, 90th, 103rd).

SCRCOG, the council of governments, is made up of fifteen municipalities: Bethany, Branford, East Haven, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Meriden, Milford, New Haven, North Branford, North Haven, Orange, Wallingford, West Haven, and Woodbridge.  Unfortunately few stories are sourced from this entity and distributed to these communities. Our fragmented presence contributes to this deficit in CT but it is a very microscopic content source and would not likely be remedied by any consolidation.

Looking at consolidation configurations by civic or service intersectionality fails to find an optimal option for the concept of community media consolidation.

Our project funding connections, which may be more critical in the future than ever, are linked to Greater New Haven.  Our business connections are Quinnipiac Chamber (Wallingford/No. Haven) affiliated with the Greater New Haven Chamber. However, we are just, if not more likely, to connect with Mid-state Chamber which is Meriden-centric. Because we are noncommercial, business affiliations present more dynamic challenges.

It is suggested that alternate funding for community media can be grants. A few community media centers have sought foundation funding. This funding is typically project-based. The immediate need is sustainable operations funding. Until there is a sustainable model for operations, adding the management of projects to what “community media” is about is at best a long-term strategic goal.

Wallingford (Comcast) has more intercommunity connections with Meriden than any other surrounding town. Our facility is used by Meriden (Cox) residents and nonprofits, in part, because it is easier to access our resources than those of the corporate-run operation.  Completion of a multi-session training, and the 4-person crew requirement, is a high bar for timeliness and commitment to the production of an idea. But it is also because several non-profits serve both towns; there is a United Way serving both towns, Spanish Community of Wallingford, the local newspaper and several other target population-specific nonprofits. The newspaper serves Southington, but we have had no direct relations with Southington. However, some of our shows are carried on by Cox so there may be indirect connections.

Conclusion:  A review of affiliation and consolidation of Wallingford within the Comcast state-wide options shows no natural partnering that benefits us.

Comcast Branford:  There are opportunities for consolidation here and at minimum channel reduction.

Intra-Wallingford: We also see the failure to incentivize intra-town P.E.G. cooperation in Wallingford as harmful to sustainability and cost-effective practices.

The Study | Question Two To All Participants


Discuss whether any modifications to the operations and funding of companies and organizations responsible for community access programming are needed and, if so, provide detailed descriptions of the suggested modifications.

PURA STUDY | NONPROFIT COMMUNITY ACCESS TELEVISION IN CT | 2nd Question to all participants

Who are the responsible parties? Actually, since 1995 the State of CT assumed primary responsibility for oversight, accountability, and determination of funding. Presumably, the ten cable companies and one IPTV provider remain responsible for outreach and day-to-day either directly as a Cable Access Provider (CAPS) or with some oversight of nonprofits designated as CAPs in their franchise territory.

The Transformation of SB278 into SA 22-23 | A Study Special Act 22-23 authorizes a community media study.

How we got here. What should be studied? How can we have beneficial outcomes?

STATE OF CT | OPERATIONS

  1. Update the format for annual reporting starting with i.e.removing out-of-date questions.
  2. Create a comprehensive list of community media resources with all 169 towns identified with corrected contact information. Routinely, update this list when annual reports are submitted.
  3. If the state is to continue in a key administrative role after this study, a data administration ombudsman position could be helpful with ongoing review of accountability & compliance of all parties and overall community mediation.
  4. Restore the burden of compliance to the corporations using public rights-of-way for-profit versus retaining proceedings that are of a David & Goliath nature
  5. Eliminate annual processes. Replace them with an infrastructure that is more reliable and predictable. A community population is more stable than a subscriber population. Create a population base rate. Once equitable rates are set, trigger an automatic annual increase base CPI with an option for objection by a set date. This could include a minimum capital fund per entity that does not need to be restricted by the PEGPETIA cycle. This would require legislative recommendations as part of this study.

CABLE TV (a.k.a) BROADBAND COMPANIES

  1. Treat community media as an asset rather than a liability. This could include outreach materials, awards programs, and paid internships.
  2. Upgrade Channel capacity to HD to maximize the investment in capital funds for technology already being spent at the local level.
  3. Support a minimum and maximum operational capacity by geography and population (not subscribers) to enable more equitable delivery of services vs. statewide consolidation.
  4. Incorporate community media in the migration of the cable business to broadband strategy

CABLE ACCESS PROVIDERS (CAP)

  1. Adopt policies that support predictable programming.
  2. Create program production options that do not require trained community members.
  3. Expand training to include storytelling, interview techniques, and short-form production.
  4. Create Video Annual Reports to reinforce the brand.
  5. Provide services to individuals who are not cable subscribers.
  6. Collaborate with other media makers (i.e. arts, humanities) for redistribution of their content.

Our Site Map and direct support links


About

Mission Goals and Legalese https://wpaa.tv/mission/
What People Are Saying https://wpaa.tv/testimonials/
Who is behind the curtain? https://wpaa.tv/communitymembers/
Who has served in the public interest https://wpaa.tv/alumni/
How did the nonprofit WPAA-TV come to exist https://wpaa.tv/our-history/
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Find What is playing on TV https://wpaa.tv/watch/program-schedule
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More Than TV

Volunteer Featuring Youth Teen Tiger TV https://wpaa.tv/volunteer/
Moses Yale Beach | His Time and Ours https://wpaa.tv/myb_revealed/
Community Media Day https://wpaa.tv/cmd/
Be The Media Face Book Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/587887694620085
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Podcasts from TV Archives As Told Here http://wpaa.tv/as-told-here-podcasts/
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What are we trying to solve? CT Community Media


Requesting a comprehensive look at the deployment of the Cable Act in Connecticut on June 8, 2020

30 year of advocay on behalf of “The People’s” Voices, Transparency and Civic Educations

Re: Docket 20-01-34 Request for a Declaratory Ruling by Regional Community Access Providers that every customer served by a multichannel video programming distributor be counted under Conn. Gen. Stat 16-331a

Dear Secretary Gaudiosi (Executive Secretary, Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority):

I respectfully submit ‘exception’ comments that concur, in large part, with the March 17, 2020 filing by the Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC). The OCC comments suggest a more complete analysis would be fruitful. A complete analysis would incorporate all stakeholders and seek solutions that align with the law and what was intended by the law in a world with different capabilities.

The declaratory ruling request focuses on sustainable funding of CAPS. What would additional funds be sustaining? Exhibit C of the OCC filing, Congressional Research suggests the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of this debate is far-reaching.

I agree with the core question in the request that suggests all income-producing uses for the infrastructure deploying cable TV (and now other services) should be part of a solution. But, what are we solving? A financial band-aide on an ineffective, broken system on behalf of the communities we serve is not a solution that serves all stakeholders. It might provide a temporary adjustment to income that could well serve large CAPS. But, sourcing more dollars for CAPS does not directly address disparities in capacity, service, representation, competencies, complexity, accountability, or outdated language.

Exception 1: Service List Incomplete

The service list did not include all designated Cable Access Providers. This is troubling.

Exception 2: Who is Regional Community Access Providers, whom do they represent, and by what authority are they representing

The creation of a self-designated amalgamation of select CAPS implies a few things 1) the inadequacy of the Advisory Councils, and 2) the complexity of representative communications. This tactic of creating a temporary alliance, outside of the already complex, poorly documented, and inadequately representative CATV framework has been used in the past. It leads, in my opinion, to cumbersome, unfair, and potentially inappropriate (i.e. not cost-effective) nor the adequate application of consumer fees in the authorization of PEGPETIA. Fees and rights of way are matters affecting the public which includes CAPS and consumers of all services supported by poles and cables.

Exception 3: The ruling requested is too narrow

This is clearly suggested in the Appendices in the OCC comments of March 17th.

In 1995, statewide franchising simplified the cable companies’ annual processes by eliminating local franchise negotiations. It also created a Gross Receipts Tax revenue income source for the state. With this transition from local to state administration of P.E.G., two things were fractured:  consumer representation and PEG sustainability. Some franchises lost their renewal opportunities and were frozen in time with insufficient (or too much) per community channel capacity and aging equipment. And, entities like Advisory Councils no longer had a clear purpose. The elimination of franchises also erased capabilities for cable companies to meet capital costs obligations affirmed in the Cable Act which lead to the latest band-aide in 2008, PEGPETIA. Several communities are financing their buildings out of operating costs. There is recent and clear guidance from the FCC, capital funding is intended to be available to P.E.G. operations. It is not available in Connecticut and is part of the needed solution. (See Appendix A)WPAA-TV Testimony 09292019 for Docket 7-10-11RE01 referring to FCC ruling on capital costs.) Brick-and-mortar community investment makes all stakeholders good stewards. Even citizens with no interest in community TV and its resources can stand behind investment in community spaces.

Exception 4: The Role of the State

Comprehensive changes were made 25 years ago with well-paid corporate lawyers and well-intentioned citizen advocates at the table. The compromises were unequally shared. Maybe it is again time for a comprehensive change that looks to the use of rights of way as central to the questions of profitability and sustainability.

Recent court and FCC rulings make finding the role of the state ever more challenging. It is a more complex landscape than in 1995. Therefore, it is advisable to get a better definition of the problems and related policy before a solution or ruling can be made. The problems include inadequate channel capacity in some locations and inadequate use in others, ineffective advisory councils, adversarial versus partnered solutions between companies and communities, and inflexibility to change with markets and technology. What is the policy question? Is the policy to be in support of putting the tools and stage in the hands of those least able to afford it, addressing the digital divide? Should the solution minimize or eliminate consumer taxes with companies taking capability costs, the cost of doing business, out of profits?

In summary, more is broken than ‘from where’ and ‘how much’ income CAPS receives to operate. What the monies were intended to be, ‘payment in lieu of taxes’ for infrastructure rights-of-way vs. consumer-fees is not consumer-friendly. If you ask a person on the street if any company should reimburse a community for use of its property, the answer is likely to be ‘yes.’ If that same person is asked, “Should you pay for community TV?” the answer is likely to be ‘no.’ Many people still have no idea community TV exists. If they do, they may no longer see the value.  I for one see the value otherwise I would not volunteer every day. There is value in both the potential and the day-to-day one-person-at-a-time connections, in support of citizen engagement in whatever they choose.

The protest took the street and to social media not to their community TV stations this week but the video was ubiquitous. COVID-19 reinforced our value to those with basic cable. But who are these people, how many are there, and will there always be a base of users to serve? This proprietary predictable number would be nice to know when solving capacity matters for the future. The OCC commented on proprietary data too. Narrowcasting is undervalued in a viral world but it is one engagement at a time that has always made a difference. How can partnering as good stewards of local property and air rights be codified? Solutions should not be just about CAP’s income.

Please consider supporting a comprehensive look at the deployment of the Cable Act in Connecticut.

Youth Media Transforms to #TeenTigerTV


Who will join us on Sept. 21st in the WPAA-TV Community Room for pizza, kettle corn, and inspiration?

Our local celebration is open to young people ages 11 to 25. No reservation is required.
Starts at 6:30 | Ends at 8:30 pm, or until there is a consensus that it is time to go.

Together we will watch and listen to the voices of young people concerned about democracy including our very own youth leader, Ben Negron.

Ben is a finalist in the Democracy 2022 Civic Life Project Film Challenge. Finalists’ 1st, 2nd & 3rd place status will be announced by the Civic Life Project during an online event on the 21st. We will be watching.

Our event features:

  • Party Pizza & Kettlecorn refreshments starting at 6:30 pm
  • Democracy 2022 Civic Life Project Award (Online) | 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
  • What is next for TeenTiger TV (school vacation days, Friday evenings)

This year our summer youth participants rebranded the WPAA-TV youth program as Teen Tiger TV. The bold tiger was designed by Zara Jaferi, a High School Community Serice participant. Youth Lead Media Program at WPAA-TV and Community Media Center 28 S Orchard St. The tiger image is inspired by Hercules our Public Art Mural, by #ARCY, now a symbol of empowerment for those journeying with us on adventures in community media.

Summer of 2022

We were on the precipice of not happening even though we had planned to be more ready than ever. Ben, a 2021 youth team member, successfully navigated the Grass Roots Youth Leadership Funding process for a summer grant to employ Youth Leaders. He also helped secure a year-long grant from James H Napier Foundation, for us to explore what is, and is NOT, possible in support of youth media-makers in Wallingford. However, our efforts to secure new laptops went sideways so the summer program had some challenging technology days.

Fortunately, Mandy Miranda, the current Wallingford Youth & Social Services (YSS) Director, is very supportive of our youth initiatives. Through YSS, eligible youth are placed with us in the summer for 6-weeks of OJT training. They earn minimum wage and work up to 19 hours per week. This summer, four youth participants were funded through Workforce Alliance. They started a few days after our anticipated start date. Two others participated for High School Community Service credit. We had planned for 6-8 participants.

This year’s youth effort merited a special edition video-filled Newsletter. Check it out here. Within this Newsletter Report is a piece that harkens back to a testimonial done on Bullying & Suicide by a member of the 1st summer’s team. It is on the global Internet Archive here.

Capstone Project Summer 2022 | Life Changing

It’s Never Too Late (34 life-changing seconds) was preceded by days of conversation and skill mastery. Please watch it here. And consider sharing the link to amplify the youth’s voices and save lives: https://youtu.be/Uv0oyswae9M Please take note that this is an AI-amplified video. It used a mix of photography & Craiyon-generated images. The YouTube description cites image sources.

Our last-minute, fill-in, Story Coach (underwritten by CT Cultural Fund Operating Support Grant) took many deep breaths when the youth decided that awareness of suicide and the 988 number would be their capstone project. It was hard for many reasons. One reason, by the age of 35, he had lost five to suicide. His measured testimony showed the team that suicide has a long reach.

Members of the team watched videos, read articles, and tried to script a song — but failed to be satisfied with what they created. It needed to be unlike anything they had seen. With all other projects winding down, including a few pieces on the Coalition For A Better Wallingford, Noah Cutler and Ben tried one more time to distill a message that could be produced with some of the information and media compiled including Artificial Intelligence (AI) made images. There were 3 hours left to go and Noah did not want to concede that helping the Coalition met the team’s goal to contribute as youth voices.

In the last hour of the summer, the team unknowingly would participate in an impromptu oral report on their summer that Team Lead Ben would edit. It is obvious that some of them prefer not to be ‘on’ camera.

Youth Programs Going Forward | It Takes a Village

WPAA-TV is volunteer-run. This is one of the few programs in which staff and participants are paid. A portion of our #TheGreatGive06492 dollars was spent feeding the team. Each week included a long production day. WPAA-TV provided supper purchased from a local eatery. Why: 1) Participant eligibility for the program is either socially or economically disadvantaged, and 2) it reinforced what we do, ‘support local’.

IF we do this 6-week summer marathon again, it will definitely include a video report as it speaks volumes about the experience. WPAA-TV also produces Annual Video Reports about the work of the station garnering national Hometown Festival recognition (2019, 21, and 22) from the Alliance For Community Media.

A few things that did not make the Newsletter: our core ongoing civics project Place Yourself In History, with reimagined images & reflections, 6000 Books, and podcasts chaptering.

One podcast includes more information about youth opportunities in Wallingford coordinated through YSS. Listen here. For community service credit youth listen to and chapter our podcasts, As ToldHere WPAA-TV. Or they help promote this holocaust survivor’s story. It is a 55-minute listen. They write a few words about what they learned as a takeaway from the listening experience. We use reflections to promote the story to other prospective listeners for an hour of credit.

Our 1st youth program was made possible due to the enthusiasm of Betty Weintraub while she was with Liberty Bank Foundation. The Foundation expanded upon Workforce Alliance funding adding 6 summer jobs for participant youth when state funds were lean. The 1st Jobs playlist is pure gold, or as we say ‘evergreen’. The content is as fresh today as it was when recorded as most life lessons are. Over thirty community leaders provided insight into the prospects of a 1st job experience.

Community-made media #CelebrateWallingfordEveryday #wpaatv #MoreThanTV #TeenTigerTV

Always find us on wpaa.tv.

Chuck Sherwood Leadership Award


Honestly, my reaction was “This is the wrong time.” The Chuck Sherwood Leadership Award is not a hyperlocal award… it is about moving the movement forward. I felt, that even with thirty-six years as a volunteer in several citizen media movement roles, I had not yet accomplished enough to win. But, upon hearing the news on social media, Chuck replied, “It is about damn time.” My heart.

On March 19th, while at WPAA-TV, I received an email communication from Alliance for  Community Media Northeast Region (ACM-NE) This is quite common. However, this one was personal. The email stated:

I am happy to inform… selected you for the Chuck Sherwood Leadership Award. We received a nomination for you from your colleague, Rich Mavrogeanas. The Board unanimously approved your nomination as you are so deserving of this recognition. We will be holding an Awards Night at our conference in Providence, RI at the Renaissance Hotel on Thursday, March 31.

Alliance For Community Media North East Awards Committee

I stepped away from the computer and went upstairs to the green room. That is where the most comfortable chairs in the facility are located. I sank into one and cried, feeling the full weight of “It is too soon.”

I have a work in progress, which I want to be a fundraiser for the Alliance Foundation and WPAA-TV. It is a story of how community media is more than TV. But my memoir Citizen Media Maven-The Life had been delayed by unforeseen obstacles inclusive of a long bout with the pandemic virus.

The memoir project is a local story for the full space of community media, beyond my local community, or my state. Mine is an ordinary citizen story, with glimpses of other ordinary citizens co-existing, in a community with some peculiar barriers to free speech and transparency in government. My unfiltered feelings about these unnecessary obstacles in a world littered with hurdles would take up too much air during the awards ceremony. It will take an entire book to give context to the nuance.

In the memoir’s prelude entitled, A True Tale, According to Me, I state my intention.

It is my intention to strike the match of curiosity in you about citizen media story telling. All matches do not light. Some begin a blaze. Some are replaced by lighters and the presumption of an upgrade. All burn out and leave a residue behind.

Citizen Media Maven

My son, who is as old as my commitment to the movement, said “reframe… and make it a chapter.” He is intimately aware of my in-process memoir. I share with him the irony of this award and the conflicted feelings. Over a decade before, it was Chuck Sherwood who christened me a maven for the movement.

The Leadership Award and the Man

For over forty years, Chuck was a Public Sector Consultant focusing on Telecommunications Planning and Community Needs Assessments for Cable Franchise Renewals. He remains unabashedly ‘for the people’. The hallmark of his visionary leadership is being available to share strategies and insights. The planks for policy and strategies that emerge from conversations with Chuck challenge the status quo and push everyone’s access to media forward.

Collectively, over lunch at an Alliance For Community Media (ACM) conference, Chuck and I were trying to encourage two Connecticut members to resurrect the Alliance in CT. This nudge would become a happening in 2009. Adding to a full plate of irony, both of these dedicated ACM members are recipients of the Chuck Sherwood Leadership Award. In 2009, Jennifer Evans, the Executive Director in West Hartford, received the award related to her effort to resurrect ACM-CT. Ten years later, Pua Ford, the Government Access Coordinator in Woodbridge CT, was also recognized in honor of Chuck Sherwood. She served on both the ACMCT and regional board in the intervening years. Within the League of Women Voters, she has facilitated reaching a consensus on ‘community media’ and its vital role in the preservation of democracy

The Chuck Sherwood Leadership Award recognizes an individual whose commitment, experience and/or accomplishments has made a significant contribution to the preservation and growth of community media. This individual goes above and beyond the call of service to the mission and goals of the regional Alliance for Community Media.

Alliance For Community Media North East Awards Committee

In preparation for the award ceremony, I was asked to provide a bio and headshot.

Since my nominator would not be in Providence, I was tasked with identifying his stand-in for the ceremony. Pua agreed to take the stage on my behalf. It was her credibility in the room that made all the difference.

Most in attendance had no idea who I was or what I could have possibly done for this recognition. Or, that I had been part of envisioning our future in Connecticut for a long time.

My Bio – Expanded

As the volunteer Executive Director of WPAA-TV and Community Media Center for the past decade, my retiree life has been consumed by whatever walks in the door. And with each daily encounter, two lives change in unexpected ways.

How did I end up here? Through elaborate happenstance. With Stuart M. Arotsky, of West Haven, and a member of the original advocacy team from Hamden, I became an incorporator of the first nonprofit P.E.G. station in CT, Citizens Television. Collectively, we rescued a 6-year community effort from collapse. I was President of the New Haven League of Women Voters in 1986. Jointly, these two organizations successfully lobbied for the redesign of the City of New Haven Alder’s Chambers to be outfitted with built-in video production capabilities. In 1988, my learning curve escalated with my introduction to cable company attorneys. I was an Advisory Council Member during the franchise transfer of assets from Storer Cable to Comcast.

My preoccupation with the Community TV movement provided many more opportunities to serve as a leader in the public interest. After a decade of leadership roles in the League of Women Voters, I transitioned from consensus-based advocacy to what appeared to be a more inclusive and creative movement: Community Media.

As President of North Branford Cable Access Group, Inc. (1990-1993), I led a total volunteer station cablecasting out of the police station’s closet into a community space. The creative aspects of my media learning curve flourished during this period. The Community Bulletin Board featured images of seasonal changes in the rural landscape of this farm community.

No. Branford is the smallest community in Connecticut with dedicated community TV channels. Each of the towns in the Comcast Branford franchise area has three channels: Public, Education, and Government. There was also a regional public channel run by the cable company, Heritage Cablevision.

In No. Branford, the core team included a married couple, Marion and John Robert Dufourny. Marion, a well-respected stringer for the New Haven Register, exposed, as she did in her paintings, the extraordinary in the ordinary. With a huge and generous smile, she gathered her community’s stories with John, who ensured a camera was always at the ready. She championed my proposal to rebrand the channels in a manner that reflected the character of the community. In a special meeting dedicated to “What shall we be called”,  Marion motioned:

I move that we adopt the name Totoket TV,  Totoket is a name that harkens back to the ancestral land of the Totokets, an indigenous community within the Quinnipiac tribe. Totoket is a name often chosen to represent us: Small and distinct like the traprock mountain massif, Totoket Mountain, within the Metacomet range.

Service Interrupted – Reignited

My personal life weathered several relocations and name changes over the next few years. Therefore, I was MIA during the biggest legislative cable company coup in CT. Under the guise of making community media cost-effectively available in every community, Connecticut became one of the first statewide community media infrastructures in the nation.

Reading all the cues wrong, and relying on my visits during the 1980s, I bought a home in  Wallingford in 1995. I commuted to No. Haven for my day job. The cues were: the LWV Wallingford-Cheshire invited me to facilitate their local national consensus on reproductive rights meeting, one of the middle schools is named after Diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General of the United Nation, and a (not nearly as pretty as Totoket TV) community bulletin board began running out of the Wallingford Public Library in 1975. About the only thing that had not taken a less-than fortunate turn by 1995 was that the environmentalist legislator, Mary Mushinsky, whom I met at that LWV meeting in 1983, was still in office. Even the local LWV morphed, leaning fully into being a unit of CT Junior Women.

It took a few years before I was discovered in Wallingford. And just like in the 1980s, I was actively solicited to engage in local public access matters. Advocates and local producers typically are involved until they stop providing free meals for advisory council meetings, the producer wins a local election or they rest in peace. Most create content of some kind along the journey.

When I agreed to reengage, I thought I was joining something familiar that could be enjoyed with my curious family. I was totally unaware, and unprepared, for the amount of change that had transpired. Not only had the state significantly changed community media but my town of choice, Wallingford, was an anomaly within our outlier state. In 1993, the town radically shifted from most progressive to extremely regressive in the handling of the resources for the community’s media.

In a note to a Wallingford resident who I knew at my day job, I expressed that I was appointed to the So. Central CT Advisory Council (SCCCAC) without ever having a conversation with the Mayor. I was considering requesting a meeting. I shared:

When I accepted the appointment I anticipated that I could ease into the process as there were other Wallingford members on the council. Now I am trying to ascertain parochial interests & play catch-up because the relationships in the community appear to have been strained for several years.

She suggested that meeting with the Mayor was a good idea. She reassured me (he) “…will be impressed with your professional and forthright manner, as I am.” My appointment was recertified bi-annually for the next decade. But when the other two appointees resigned, the Mayor never filled their seats.

I was the lead community representative on the dissolution of the regional channel. My advisory council role transitioned to the chairperson in 2003. There would be a 12-year franchise agreement followed by a franchise transfer, this time from AT& T to Comcast. I resigned in 2010.

Winning the ACM Cultural Diversity Award was a brief distraction from the administrative demands of community media. For one week, I spent time with my stepson learning the basics of documentary video production. Our team of four produced, Ordinary People, Everyday Doors which I had hoped would be a prototype for more mini-documentaries. However, the unusual situation in Wallingford has kept that project on the back burner indefinitely.

My Meandering Speech

Pua finished a gracious introduction. Then it was time for me to be guided up the step to the podium. At that moment, I remained conflicted. I did not have my notes with me outlining key ideas. I had found it impossible to focus on any written remarks when practicing what to say earlier. My left eye was refusing to cooperate. I was going to rely on memory. I could tell the crowd did not recognize me. Lately, I had not recognized myself much either. Since Covid, I see my grandmother in the mirror. But truthfully, I was not the type of leader they would know. I tried to lead by example and provide proof that community TV can thrive in a ‘hostile environment’. I gave context to the word hostile with a story of invisibility. As I told the story, the trauma overtook me. I really do not know what I said. I wanted to see the video before posting this blog, but it has not materialized.

Next up would be the presentations for Community Impact. To my surprise, and with some unexpected validation, Rev. Will Mebane, now of Falmouth Mass, said he knew ‘a not to be named Mayor’ who very much could be the person in my story. And that he once had a business in Wallingford. The show he co-hosts, The Conversation, speaks to his experiences to attempt open dialogue and work to educate our community on issues of racial justice.

Whatever I said on stage that night must have been awkward. The following day, several of the younger conference attendees politely asked me about my PTSD. They could not imagine doing this type of work without the support of local town leaders. They offered me hugs. They wanted to protect us both, me and community media. I thanked them for their comradeship, assured them that an attack on social media would serve naysayers more than the cause and that I was committed to having the work speak for itself.

SPECIAL ACT 22-23 | The Wrong Study


The Transformation of SB278 into SA 22-23 | A Study

Special Act 22-23 authorizes a community media study. The study proposal first appeared as a full replacement amendment1 of Senate Bill 2782 on the last day3 of a robust 2022 Connecticut Legislative Session. The amendment substitutes immediate action, modifying regulations, with a study.

A study can be a legitimate step toward informed future action. However, this legislative maneuver has embedded obstacles. And, as I was reminded by a Wallingford state legislator when discussing the viability of a veto, studies can lead to no action.

Do you know how many studies we authorize that are never done? Or never have actionable outcomes?

— a Wallingford State Representative

The study focus takes a full turn from the objectives of the draft legislation raised to ‘remediate’ a community media funding crisis. Instead of authorizing a revenue source revision, this Special Act is encumbered with preconditions; “The study shall include, as a prerequisite to any recommendations…”

It is designed to ‘… review (certified third-party nonprofit organizations) operations and current funding structures for both operational and capital needs, rather than all community media providers. Instead of a problem statement, or study goals, there are preconditions slanted toward limiting cable TV corporations’ community investments.

The amendment to a bill entitled “An Act Requiring Multichannel Video Programming Distributors to Pay a Community Access Programming Fee” is absent any mention of Multichannel Video Programming Distributors. It is now “An Act Concerning a Study of  Community Access Programming Operations.”

The movement of the full replacement amendment on May 4th was remarkable. However, there has been very little transparency as to why there was a Hail-Mary change rather than just letting the bill be among those not voted on in this session.

Its passage underscores the immense trust and esteem that all the Senators, and much of the legislative body, hold for Senator Needleman. An overwhelming affirmative vote took place without members of the legislative committee being privy to how a full replacement amendment came to be before them. An insider claims, without providing any context, that a study was “…wanted by PURA.” Others suggest that the appeal of consolidation won the day with a business-minded “common-sense solutions” leader. And others not close to the topic wondered almost audibly, “What harm could there be in a study of a matter that seemed complex from the onset?”

While there was an expectation that action would help remedy the financial concerns of community media in the near term, there was also lingering concern over litigation and the perception of taxing consumers in a nickel-and-dime fashion. Research shows people leave cable TV for two reasons: Cost and entertainment choice.

The Call for a VETO | What can be learned?

What can be learned from the calls for a veto? Several front-line nonprofits and their legislative representatives agreed that starting over may be better than starting from a place of brokenness or bias. Among those behind consideration of a Veto were frontline Community Media administrators previously absent from the lobbying process, Energy & Tech Committee members who voted ‘No’ on the amendment, and others who voted ‘Yes’, because they relied on hearsay. Several voting ‘Yes’ believed that what was before them as an amendment was the product of consensus.

Joint, and independent, requests were sent to the Governor to Veto SB 22-23. The Chairman of the Energy & Tech Committee was also notified of concerns and asked to consider a course change.

In my letter to the Governor, I suggested a one-wire solution which is also the solution mentioned in this blog post. I concluded with:  As a retired business analyst and an advocate for the ideals of community media, in many capacities since 1986, I can attest that much is broken. But this bill delays identifying a solution, targets one type of provider for review, and puts cable company profits at the center of the expected outcomes.

The invitation to review the legislative outcomes went out to all organizations and individuals affiliated with the Alliance For Community Media CT (est. 2009). Several franchise areas were represented in the subsequent Zoom discussions. Discussion identified consensus on many, not all, concerns. Three strategic options were reviewed: -Take No Direct Action on SB278, Mobilize to Veto SB278, -Mobilize to identify concern and expedite timeline. Participants delegated, regrouped, sought expert opinions, and discussed opinions. Informal consensus was reached on the following:

  • Limiting the study to a subset of community media providers manifests implicit bias.
  • Concerns about the following language “a prerequisite to any recommendations” and “an analysis and recommendations related to the state-wide consolidation” all while suggesting funding limits based on existing franchise areas.
  • The timeline for the study is too long. It defers any legislative action to a short 2024 session.
  • Bias of setting a fiscal cap on future cable corporation expenditures before study is conducted. [Of particular note, the specificity of the fiscal timeframe is the three highest revenue-loss years, a 3-year period which had only one PEGPETIA capital grant cycle. It excludes the current PURA Docket 21-07-26, which authorizes the most substantial CPI increase in the history of the Annual Community Support Review process and includes some remediation of long-term baseline funding disparities.]

and recapped as

Please veto SB 278 as passed in amended form. The original bill sought improvements for the nonprofit community access organizations. The strike-all amendment, only visible on May 4, changes this to a study, delaying help for those nonprofits, suggesting that “state-wide consolidation” is a solution, and putting a “prerequisite” on any funding recommendations from the study. Delay and limits on the proposed study have the opposite effect of the original bill. … it would be better to start over again in 2023 than struggle with a flawed study.

And finally, we agreed the we must hang our hope on the broad exercise by PURA of this language but need not be limited to.”

Questions most wished to have answered:

  1. Can the due date of the study [December 15, 2023] be changed in the special session or advanced by PURA on its own to Jan 15, 2023?
  2. Can the scope of the study be broader than the preconditions infer?
  3. Can corporate providers of community media be a source of comparative data?

Wrong Study

The problem with SA 22-23 is that the ‘whole’ is not identified for study. A comprehensive study would include a review of all stakeholders’ interests. Data collection would identify consumer needs and connect, in some manner, to use of public rights-of-way. Equity would be for the consumer, not the cable provider.

Much of the focus to-date has been on fiscal sustainability of community media. Therefore, study recommendations should address revenue sources and criteria: reasonable, reliable, and sustainable with low-impact oversight. But we need an infrastructure transformation that aligns with our communities of interests digital transformations. To accomplish this requires adaptive leadership. Ironically, a recent McKinsey Report concluded with a perfect construct of our current dilemma:

“What we have and what we don’t have is constructed by the decisions that are made on what data to collect, and what data not to collect. To have a data-informed environment is incredibly important, but that requires us to make decisions about what we’re collecting, what we’re interpreting, and how we’re interpreting it.”       

 –Tsedal Neeley, the Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, The Digital Mindset: What It Real

A PURA Docket is not a study. We have over a decade of data without analysis from PURA Dockets. That data needs analysis to identify a way forward. Those who started this ball rolling toward where we find ourselves today, suggested a ‘study group’ of stakeholders. Study Groups are often long term iterative engagements that devolve into deals and compromises rather than a collection of base-line data from which to draw conclusions.

All stakeholder data should be included: interviews, archival reports, and a survey based on decisions about what new data is to be collected. Data that can also be a baseline for future reporting and accountability.

A comprehensive study would go further than how community media is underwritten. It would identify best practices. It would compare outcomes across all provider models such as community involvement, production volume, user access and satisfaction. It would identify factors that influence success or constrain outcomes. It would identify and suggest how to avoid current pitfalls. With such a study, there will be significant disappointment in the findings and identification of boundless opportunities.

Community Media Needs Assessment

A method of study is already conditionally prescribed by law. PURA could have ‘on its own motion’ or as an ‘order’ in Annual Review initiated a comprehensive study without a new legislative directive. PA 95-150 weakened by PA 07-253 amended 16-333 as regards assessments. Both public acts establish cable companies as the ultimate responsible party for community access. And the request by cable companies for data and analysis in Docket 21-07-26 provided a clear opening to initiate a study beyond the scope of a docket.

PA 95-150 is the law which requires cable TV companies to fund public access programming.

PURA was reminded of the needs assessment tool during the 2022 Annual Community Support Review Docket 21-07-26 when Comcast asked for analyzed cumulative data. If PURA was truly behind the transformation of the bill into a study, maybe the conditional nature of needs assessment was a concern. If they were actors in the process the word needs assessment could have been incorporated in the language of the amendment. PURA, predominantly lawyer, could have wanted a directive. If so, did they weigh in on the preconditions?

By law, applicants for cable franchises must pay for an assessment of community needs, conducted by an independent consultant. The act eliminates this requirement once an area is subject to effective competition.

A need presumes a gap between a current and desired state. One of the challenges in our collective story is the lack of consensus between all stakeholders on the desired state. Identification of solutions and opportunities requires clarification of the problem.

What is the problem? Lack of funding for community media? Lack of cost effective operational practices? Lack of community involvement? Does it all begin with a policy failure? Is there a clear link between use of public resources to a significant community investment? How local is local? Should a urban neighborhood have the same access to tools, stage and training as a rural town? Who decides? What are the reasonable needs of a community?

Ultimately, a needs assessment would help draft an underlying policy from which to derive law and regulations. Innovation in media delivery, market shifts such as a new generations of cord-nevers who can not cut a cord they never had, should not devolve into valuing civic investment or cost-benefit analysis. But it has. Regardless of how citizen media is valued by those required to underwrite it, it is a significant community investment whose outcomes can address civic needs such as media literacy.

Can we agree to be forward thinking about our historic roots?  Can a substantial community investment derived from use of public resources be optimized as civic investment? It is a democracy movement after all.

Is Positive Transformation Possible with Study?

Has the community’s trust been breached? Have the nonprofit community TV providers been set-up for failure? Time will tell.

Special Act 22-23 begins: The chairperson of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) shall conduct a study…

Can SPECIAL ACT 22-23  be transformed into the information-seeking-tool needed to advance Connecticut’s under-valued, under-used, under-funded and ultimately ‘unremarkable’ community media environment?

Can local journalism, citizen media, transparency in government, digital literacy training, advocacy storytelling, and lifelong and specialized learning opportunities, be the hallmark of our collective effort to uplift voices, talents and inspire community engagement?

Susan Huizenga, WPAA-TV Executive Director

Backstory: What Was The Legislative Intent?

The SB278 legislative initiative was a response to rapid declines in nonprofit community media revenue4. Certain advocates sought government authorization to charge the newest commercial enterprises in a manner similar to cable TV providers. Originally, SB278 sought to extend the assessment of a use fee on other entities using the the same public rights-of-way and infrastructure as cable TV providers. In other words, with the same public interest consideration, any company that provides similar services (TV, or video content viewable on TV) using public resources should be charged.

Anyone familiar with how community media is funded is acutely aware that every instance of cable TV cord-cutting removes up to $10 a year from community media revenue. There is significant evidence of revenue loss; $1,000 for every 100 cords cut. One might assume that the cable TV industry is concurrently harmed by the exodus of cable TV viewers. This assumption is not correct. Earlier this year, I explored cable TV history and the rebranded industry’s skyrocketing revenue here.

A Joint Favorable, SB278, was raised out of committee on March 22 as a concept more than a fully formed bill. There was enough legislative support for remediation5, but no clear path forward. The chairman was entrusted with cultivating consensus language. A gargantuan task.

Based on the language of the amendment, and rumors as to who drafted it, I assumed that the bill raised out of committee poked one of the big bad wolves in this unending fairy tale about democracy: AT&T.

The direct consumer impact of the original SB278 proposal could be significantly less than $10 a year. Yet, SB278 was described as the most lobbied bill during a very impressive 2022 Connecticut Legislative Session. How did such an esoteric service, community media, garner so much coveted attention by our lobbied legislators? And why did the Office of Consumer Counsel extend so much advocacy time to a bill on community media?

Why? Because what happens in Connecticut could have impact elsewhere for the cable companies. Keep that thought. 

Unfortunately, the details are entangled in the transformation of how consumers receive media, associated technological changes, and archaic and technical language in federal and state law and regulation. Technical language in legislation can unintentionally disable the intent of law, always contributes to complexity, and adds the prospects of litigation.

The regulation challenge of this infrastructure-usage relationship is not limited to America. As  Connecticut attempted to band-aid this revenue loss situation, Denmark approved a levy on global streaming services citing how a fragmented media landscape, “…can challenge the cohesion and democratic dialogue in our country.”

The devil is in the details.

– Senator Needleman, Energy & Technology Committee Chairperson

A levy is presumed to be a tax. In America, our levy is more like cheap rent. It is a nominal cost for use of public resources. Even the Cable TV industry agrees it is not a tax. Subscriber bills describe the pass-through cost to customers as a ‘Regulatory Cost Recovery’ fee. The bill inserts explain, “It is neither a government mandate nor a tax.” As a pass-through, these funds, which is the case in the ongoing Frontier Bankruptcy, can not be treated as assets or income.

Technology companies have armies of well-paid lawyers and lobbyists intent on saving their companies more than they are paid. Big bucks. The cable television industry no longer brands itself as television. Together with AT&T, which entered and exited the Connecticut cable TV market leaving significant wounds, they continue to ignore the potential value of supporting  local communities’ media creation. Their agenda is disconnected from public interests and use of public rights-of-way for commercial purposes.

The most complex Public, Educational, and Government Access In The Nation

I believe that SB278 was on a flawed course. It was addressing a symptom instead of the structural problems inherent in enabling relevant community media. But, the implied scope of the Special Act 22-23 study has even less to do with the problem. An unfunded study, conducted by one of the stakeholders in a flawed system, is not likely to reveal an adequate solution without strenuous advocacy.

The problem is the use of public rights-of-way for new profit making ventures without compensation, and how we got here:  Connecticut has the most complex, inequitable mechanism for providing Public, Educational, and Government Access and related funding in the nation. It is a hodgepodge of corporate, regional, town and mixed service applications with a variety of channel capacity allocations.

Franchise renewals all but disappeared with the entry of the now nearly defunct statewide cable franchise. AT&T, now a player in streaming services, crashed into the cable TV space around 2007. IPTV, which they claimed not to be cable TV, disrupted the market. Their statewide franchise business strategy, added complexity to regulations and further disrupted community media. Frontier acquired AT&T’s Network assets in 2014, inclusive of all its noncompliant obligations to community media.

In 2008, franchise renewals ceased; muting much of Public Act 95-150 inclusive of the once required ‘needs assessments’ paid for by the cable companies. Franchising, occurring in 5 to 12 year intervals, was the opportunity to review operations & capital investment funds for community media. A combination of action, and inaction, left franchises, regardless of where franchises were in their cycle, with subscriber fees locked in as a base for the ‘new’ Annual Community Support Review process.

Certain advocates initiated legislative action for a capital expenditure grant program to address a portion of the funding hole created by the absence of active franchising. This gave rise to another less than ideal funding mechanism: PEGPETIA, a competitive grant program for select capital expenditures. The availability of these funds has been irregular. And truth be told, there was a presumption that the program would create a spigot of funds. Funds that would be available to stimulate content creation in addition to providing for timely updates to community media and schools technology resources. OOOPs.

In my opinion, a needs assessment is the very process that should be invoked now: an independent review of capacity, constituent needs, and provisions for relevant P.E.G. operations based on market transformation. From a comprehensive report, legislation could be enacted that replaces, or updates, both PA 95-150 and PA 07-253.

A needs assessment would report on all uses of the infrastructure, the adequacy of current regulations and oversight, and best practices by all stakeholders. It could recommend actions that reduce costs for cable companies, assess modest fees on other users of the public rights-of-way, and improve services to all communities in Connecticut, inclusive of digital literacy resources for which there is a broad spectrum of need.

What Three Things Would You Ask For?

Representative Mary Mushinsky, a member of the Energy & Tech Committee, who voted NO on the amendment and wrote a letter to the Governor favoring a Veto. Her focus was on the timeline and the original intent of the bill.

The community stations are suffering from reduced funding because Connecticut’s community television station system is based on the original 30-year-old model of assessing cable TV subscribers in a monopoly. This model no longer works for funding the stations, as new technology and streaming services have caused cable customers to free themselves from cable entertainment. The fees that support community access TV are vanishing fast, and so will the stations.

Representative Mushinsky asked those convening with concerns about the impending act, “Besides concern about precondition and timeline, what 3 things would you ask for?”

Money, Money, Money.

Feeling overwhelmed most replied with some form of prioritization of funding for operations, programs and reliable capital funds for equipment. But money is not a solution and most avoided seeking a solution that did not rubber stamp the current delineation of services.

My considered answer to her attempt to have us do some long-term consensus building follows:

  1. Funding: A One Wire funding solution
  2. Simplification: Passage of forward looking consumer-oriented legislation that removes the various artifacts & vestiges (language, scope, territory, regulations) of the evolution of cable TV services inclusive of replacement of a data collection & reporting platform that are redundant, outdated, and do not support trend & gap analysis, accountability & oversight.
  3. Relevance: Align public rights of way in lieu of taxes underwriting by one-wire users with needs & expectations of our communities for transparency in government, access to lifelong learning resources and tools & training for community media production mindful of the digital divide.

What Could be The Solution: A One-Wire Vantage Point

In spite of the fact that, unlike most states, Connecticut provides for community media in all 169 towns, there is still a legacy of ‘less than what we all deserve’ from public-rights-of-way use in Connecticut. Connecticut was one of the first states to lessen regulations on cable companies and siphon some of the prospective financial resources into the general fund.

Is the current iteration of PURA interested in advancing Connecticut out of this quagmire? The final decision in the Annual Review leaves that subject to speculation. The actual outcomes do not map to the inference of support.

PURA has led in other markets, as evidenced by a “Framework for an Equitable Modern Grid” and “zero emissions” regulations. So, there is some hope. But administratively, there is also significant evidence of technology challenges in the operations of PURA itself.

In conclusion, the artifacts of the prior franchise system impede optimal outcomes for any of the stakeholders, most especially the consumer. In my opinion, the solution we should be working toward is making Connecticut the one-wire model for underwriting community media services. And the infrastructure, accessibility and equity for community media services MUST be designed for relevancy now, and in the foreseeable future.

Notations:
1. Offices of Legislative Research ‘Amendment’ Analysis.
2. Office of Legislative Research ‘Original’ Bill Analysis
3.Bill Action last Day of Legislative Session | May 4, 2002: Senate Adopted Senate Amendment Schedule A 6388, Senate Passed as Amended by Senate Amendment Schedule A, On Consent Calendar, Transmitted Pursuant To Joint Rule 17, Favorable Report-Tabled for the Calendar-House, House Calendar Number 562,House Adopted Senate Amendment Schedule A, House Passed as Amended by Senate Amendment Schedule A, In Concurrence
4.Partial reporting of community media revenue trends submitted by Office of Consumer Council in PURA Docket 21-07-26 Annual Community Media Support Review
5. 18% of legislature co-signed original bill