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Place Yourself in History: Annual Prize, Ongoing

If nothing but consistent, requesting a comprehensive look at the deployment of the Cable Act in Connecticut on June 8, 2020


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not directly address disparities in capacity, service, representation, competencies, complexity, accountability, or outdated language.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.

Protest took the street and to social media not to their community TV stations this week but 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 the 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

What is the universe telling me?


I am not sure how to read the universe at this moment.
A week ago, I committed to making some adjustment in my service & focus dependent on outcomes on May 4.
This picture is more effective as a video. On the last day of the #TheGreatGive06492 campaign, the Record-Journal promotion (and the collaborative effort) is literally blowing across my lawn.

 

The TV station WPAA-TV suffered an outage of nearly 10 hours. The Comcast feed went down 2 hours before our annual fundraiser special featuring the boundary pushing @Mike Casey Jazz Trio. This event’s reimbursable costs were covered by a @CtHumanities operations outreach grant.

The outage was resolved at about 2 am but I came in to monitor TVs that were still frozen. Not told about the problem status, I did not realize I needed to reboot our monitor TVs until late in the day. Tech & communication snafus are exhausting me.

The CT legislature passed SB 278. It was expected to change funding parameters to improve our sustainability. Unprecedented, this bill morphed into a study of Community TV funding & delivery with a full replace Amendment.

It will, and should, have consequences. Will they be favorable to democracy, or profit making companies? TBD. The built in prerequisites capping funding to the 3 years with the highest decline in subscribers makes it clear whose lobbyist drafted the Amendment. I believe a 3rd party independent study is necessary but this was not funded. If it is handled like a PURA Docket the outcomes will likely benefit communities of profitable interests.

WPAA-TV and Community Media Center won Overall Excellence for our size in Alliance for Community Media 2022 Hometown Video Festival. An incredible honor for the 3rd time in 4 years. #busydifferently

Our #TeamHercules Youth are also being recognized for their advocacy videos and local producer/animator Michael Schleif
for Children’s Programming. Chicago here I come.

Our MYB Innovation in Arts Space Initiative is now dependent on the health challenges of property owner. awkward  #Innovation

Today, I have officially completed 10 years as volunteer Executive Director. What my next steps will be have been ruminating in sleeplessness for weeks. Stay. Leave. Refocus.

I had decided to leave it up to the where the universe is today to determine how to refocus. But as usual, my life defies focus.

A contribution of $5, $10 to my decade long passion project would be an uplifting wind.

Can you be part of our excellence?


All that is mWPAA-TV and Community Media Center is More.Than.TV. But our commitment to our primary mission is not only strong, it is recognize for excellence.

#wpaatv is the Alliance for Community Media Hometown Overall Excellence winner – small CommunityTV again in 2022 (2019, 21).
And our youth team wins honors for advocacy videos. A local producer also takes top honors in Children’s programming. (More on this soon in another story.)

Enjoy Raise The Curtain on the Arts #TheGreatGive Special featuring the Mike Casey Jazz Trio May 4th, 8 pm on #wpaatv (streaming & TV) with a replay at midnight and then 5 pm Thursday.

What we do together supports many organizations in Wallingford. Check out the #theGreatGive06492 campaign here.

TheGreatGive06492

Please consider being part of our excellence as a grassroots donor. As little as $5 can bring content in 2 languages to our community, underwrite festival fees for our producers, support our award winning youth training imitative: Team Hercules Youth.

https://www.thegreatgive.org/organizations/wallingford-public-access

All that is missing is U.

Open Letter | Fees & Public Rights Of Way


A position that keeps one’s soul safe, for a short time.

Feb 22, 2022
Open Letter to Members of the Energy and Technology Committee regarding Fees & Public Rights of Way
Re: AN ACT REQUIRING …COMMUNITY ACCESS … TO BE TRUE & CURRENT

I wish to write an able letter with the gravity of turn of the 19th-century letters to newspaper editors. These letters ‘of the people’ stirred public discourse. They contributed to the American experiment, much the way Community Television, another experiment, was intended to do with stories, ideas, and an engaged citizenry—achieving the complex task of living in community as a democracy.

The hypothesis, for both of these experiments, is that public discourse is a vital tool in maintaining the sovereignty of the people. Discourse is intended to lead to change. In a democracy, the expectation is that a public interest is served.

As you are well aware, changes in technology and business practice are already on the horizon which could further distance the intent of any legislation tethered to technology from its intended outcomes.

Which leads us to today, and the proposed Community Access Act before this committee which would take one essential step: affirmation of the long-standing use of public-rights-of-way fees for funding for Public, Educational and Government (PEG) channels. However, it is my highly-informed opinion that updating state law, PA 95-150, to clarify public-rights-of-way eligibility for assessment of fees falls short of the need for legislative and regulatory updates.

History Simplified

Decades of federal & state legislation couples public-rights-of way with public speech.

In 1984, Congress clarified local government’s power to negotiate franchise agreements and establish public access channels (Public, Educational and Government or PEG channels). In 1992, the regulatory hands of state and local authorities were strengthened. After 62 years, the 1996 Cable Act foreshadowed an increase in demand for franchises, and more importantly, use of the public rights of way.

In Connecticut, in the mid-90s, the cable television industry lobbied your peers successfully for regulatory change. Public Act 95-150 emerged. From the pro-competitive, deregulatory intent of federal and state legislation in this era, telephone companies emerged as content providers for television viewers. By fiat, they deconstructed the CT franchise system in 2007, an outcome desired by their competitors in the cable industry. Unfortunately, what is left in the wake of AT&T’s entry into and exit out of the market as a state-wide franchise is chaos exacerbated further by Frontier Communications (AT & T’s successor)  imminent abandonment of competitive video programming. 2007 was a tipping point in the further deterioration of community television capabilities and the beginning of public challenges regarding new revenue streams free from obligations to pay for use of the public rights of way. I conclude, as do many of my peers, that the archaic outdated legacy language and mechanisms of PA 95-150, and subsequent acts and regulations, are not adequately serving our communities nor any other stakeholders’ interest.

BEFORE THIS COMMITTEE
The proposed act focuses narrowly on the long-standing intent that PEG channels be underwritten from paid-use of the public rights of way. The authority to legislate fees as proposed is provided for in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (47U.S.C.A. 254(c)1

The 1996 Act provides: “Nothing in this section affects the authority of a State or local government to manage the public rights-of-way or to require fair and reasonable compensation from telecommunications providers on a competitively neutral and nondiscriminatory basis, for use of the public rights of way on a nondiscriminatory basis, if the compensation required is publicly disclosed by such government.”

Testimony from the parties who wrangled consideration of the proposed ‘MVPD fee’ act put forth metrics on revenue losses to community television providers. Losses can be attributed directly to legacy language that does not account for changes in the methods of video content delivery: traditional cables evolution into broadband service (Internet and content streaming). Broadband  industry representatives will infer that they are incurring losses. If the question narrowly targets income from legacy systems this is true so what explains escalating profits in this time of cable TV demise.

I have contributed based on Interrogatories to the chorus on revenue loss [1] [[2] [3] in PURA Docket 21-07-26 | The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority Annual Commutrends sans countsnity Access Support Review. Our data affirms that Wallingford Public Access Association (WPAA-TV) revenues are at 2010 levels. They are steadily and rapidly decreasing as Frontier disengages from the market and cord-cutting escalates.

A Broader Lens on Use and Revenue Featuring Comcast
Comcast Business, the predominant cable television content provider in my town, no longer refers to itself as ‘cable TV’. Their public financial reports confirm revenue growth from streaming services. Evidence follows:

Press Release: Comcast Business Continues its Rapid Growth. Its 2021 report declares, The number of devices connected to WiFi has skyrocketed by 12X since 2018 as Xfinity households connected nearly 1 billion devices in 2021.
—devices connected to WiFi during the year – a 14X increase from 2018

As Comcast’s legacy video business continues to shrink, its new streaming venture has grown rapidly. Comcast said its cable segment saw its best quarterly customer relationship growth on record thanks to high-speed internet customer net additions totaling 633,000. … “Driven by our industry-leading platform and strategic focus on broadband, aggregation and streaming, we added a record 633,000 high-speed internet customers and 556,000 total net new customer relationships.

Comcast’s Cable TV Woes Continue Into Q3: Here’s Why It Doesn’t Matter
• Comcast is no longer wasting resources and capital to secure unprofitable cable customers.
• The company is instead making the most of a cable infrastructure that’s no longer limited to delivering cable TV transmissions in one direction.
• Regardless, cable television itself wasn’t and isn’t a must-thrive sort of enterprise for Comcast.

ACTIVE PEG REVENUE PURA DOCKET 21-07-26
I can assure you of one thing, there is consensus from all stakeholders that this docket is structurally flawed. Unfortunately, transparency demonstrates how ill-prepared PURA is to handle this well-intentioned docket: From service list data-errors to flaws in database architecture to well-meaning permissions to ask more, and more, tangential questions. As with most ‘corporate attorneys vs. the people’ forums, the interactions have been passive aggressive, argumentative, sometimes hyperbolic, and rarely, enlightening.

No outcome from this proceeding will solve what is broken. This docket began last July. It takes an even narrower look at Public, Educational and Government or PEG channels funding via the CPI index for per subscriber increases. At this time, there are likely thousands of pages of correspondence. Data base flaws likely account for 700% of the redundancy. This docket shines a light on many administrative flaws in the administration of non-franchise franchises. It demonstrates PURA’s need for legislative authority to effect solution-based, cost-effective change to regulations, service areas, municipal equity. PURA could also be authorize to engage parties to seek solutions, identify best practices, acknowledge fails, and discover opportunities from the decades of data provided in Community Access Annual Reports. If PURA’s franchise duties were funded from the public-rights-of-way fees, ALL stakeholders could see significant direct, and opportunity, cost savings and better outcomes.

AN ACT REQUIRING MULTICHANNEL VIDEO PROGRAMMING
DISTRIBUTORS TO PAY A COMMUNITY ACCESS PROGRAMING FEE

In summation, the state legislature has the authority to extend the long-standing cable fee to other services using the same rights of way. But if the action taken is limited to an extension of the revenue, absent any provisions to update the administrative and service infrastructures, the outcome will be a costly disservice to all stakeholders.

This act can come out of committee with more than a modification to fees for all uses of the public rights. The act can require updating all aspects of management of users of public rights of way for commercial content & delivery services, inclusive, but not limited to:
– franchise fees underwriting the cost of PURA’s franchise administration
– reparations for the unintended consequences of PA-150 (municipality inequity)
– elimination of redundancy (i.e. 14 franchise areas vs. Comcast Connecticut)
– improve data accuracy (How is is it for the public to find their Community Access Station(s)?
– review channel capacity (Can P E G channels be defined as capacity? Or by function? )
– review advisory roles (What has your Cable Advisory Council done lately?)
– identify best practices (Let’s start with predictable programming. )

Fact: A problem continues if you treat the symptoms rather than the root cause. Inadequate revenue for community media is a symptom. Disabling and devaluing the role of citizen media is the relationship problem. The biggest fail for all stakeholders is inequity, archaic systems and acquisition of data without analysis. Echoing Langston Hughes, I am concerned that the community media experiment will continue to fail to fulfill its promise … for all people without comprehensive legislation and regulatory action.

Sincerely,

Susan Adele Huizenga
Volunteer Executive Director
WPAA-TV and Community Media Center

‘What if’ Community TV was embraced by Cable TV?


For over five decades, cable companies have not embraced Community TV a.k.a. Public Education Government Access TV (P.E.G.)

In the 1960s, Cable Cowboys envisioned that an alternative to broadcast TV could be their gold rush. For many it was. They secured air rights and put up poles and lines in communities across America. There are now a few dominant cable television corporations, and several midsize, each with geographically limited service areas. The geography is not limited. Mergers and acquisitions have created giants such as Comcast Corporation with footprints in many states.

Digital TV |  The new gold rush is ‘digital TV’. What digital television content providers have in common is the move to streaming services. Cable TV cord-cutters decrease direct cable TV profits, concurrently reducing the expense of community TV. However, cable companies often retain the cable TV cord-cutters as Internet service customers, as there are many people that love watching TV and they even get a full motion wall mounts to watch it more comfortably.

Cord cutters are typically revolting against the high cost of premium packages and their restrictions on choice. But they all need the Internet and a device to stream the content they choose to view. Much of the streamed content, unless provided via satellite, uses the same infrastructure (air rights and poles) as cable TV.

Cable TV corporations are now branding as “Internet Service Providers’. All are represented by trade associations, lobbyists and corporate attorneys. More than $230 million was spent on lobbying and political donations during the 116th Congress (2019), targeted at expanding broadband with government infrastructure investments. Another goal for cable lobbyists and lawyers is the elimination of community TV, or at a minimum, decreasing its expense.

To put it another way:

Cable lawyers are charged with bullying the cable companies way out of  obligation to pay for air rights for cable TV; while concurrently seeking billions in government support for 5G infrastructure build out.

An unintended consequence of cable TV cord cutting by consumers is that they unknowingly put deep cuts into their local community TV station’s life-lines. Here is where the lawyers come in to play. They keep the focus of the arguments on the technical language in the laws; language used at the birth of the industry. They fail to concede that the intent of the Cable Acts were to establish payment to communities for air rights—permission to put poles on every street and make a profit.

The last huge and successful push in Connecticut to minimize cable companies out-of-pocket costs for P.E.G. happened in 1995. The passage of PA 95-150 created a statewide franchise, one of the first in the nation. The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), it was DEEP at the time, became directly responsible for managing community TV compensation as part of their oversight of all functional aspects of cable TV (CATV) as a utility.

Consequences of 1995 Statewide Franchise | The 1995 law, and subsequent regulations, eliminated the in depth review of actual costs, capital investment in local communities, and overall provisions of service by the cable companies including community TV. It lessened many corporate costs, including legal overhead of the franchise renewal process, as well as any substantive burden of proof of quality services. Local input regarding services, and the capabilities of community TV was muted; some would say “eliminated.” The 1995 Act was a huge win for cable companies. It did, however, retain community TV in every community in Connecticut based on the models adopted in the original franchise agreements. A major oversight in 1995 was that no accommodations were made for the local communities that had NOT recently renewed their franchise. Those with recent renewals have had capacity and financial advantages over their neighbors to this day.

There was another shake-up to the community TV movement in 2007 in which language was central to the discussion and outcomes PA 07-253.  At that time AT&T sought a state-wide franchise as an IPTV provider in part to shed responsibility for air rights payments. This shake-up grandfathered franchise areas but alted renewal, franchise by franchise

At this time an Annual Community Access Support Review is conducted. This process has been a cut & past exercise resulting in a CPI index increase in subscriber fee payments until 2021, the year the index increased enough to argue about.  Community Access Providers, Cable Companies, and Advisory Councils are to file reports to theses Dockets: Here is the references from 2015 to 2021: The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority Annual Community Access Support Review 15-01-17, 16-01-17, 17-01-09, 18-01-32, 19-02-15, 20-01-09 , 21-02-52

Cable TV cord cutting is slowly defunding community TV stations upwards to 40%.

Is it all about the money?

As every household knows, merchandise and service costs have risen. Until 2021, the CPI has been low; therefore, cable companies had no significant basis to object to fee increases. However, this year, they suggested, using the language of the regulations, that there be an extensive review of ‘what community media television providers’ are providing and their ‘value’?

In 2020, certain Community TV providers requested a docket be open regarding treating all Multichannel Video Programming Distributors in the same manner as cable TV (Docket 20-01-34). MVPD essentially refers to all manner of getting content on your television. The outcome favored the direct meaning of ‘cable’; thereby; outweighing the air rights intent of federal cable law. The decision also signaled that the only mechanism for change was legislative.

DOCKET NO. 21-07-26 | Is the annual review of community TV funding currently underway. It has become a cumbersome docket. In this review, PURA Commissioners need to ascertain if the historic use of CPI will be applied to subscriber payments payable to Cable Access Providers by cable companies.  Or, if there are mitigating circumstance such as cord-cutting to take alternative action to increase, or decrease, or adjust payments. According to cable company representatives, only a portion of the cost of community TV is passed through to customers on the bill as a franchise fee. This docket includes bills showing the franchise fee is one of the smallest fees on cable TV bills (often less than 50 cents a month).

What has been an administrative exercise for decades, adjusting per subscriber payments payable by cable companies, is now a battle ground. This docket has reopened wounds from 1995 and provided some transparency on the impact of cord-cutting in local communities. It has provided very little insight into the digital landscape as content distribution changes.  More importantly, it has given rise to discrediting community TV through inference and procedural maneuvering by cable company attorneys.

This docket can not directly address the air rights uses of cable companies, or the responsibility of cable companies to cover reasonable capital investments by local communities; all things references in this inquiry. It could, however, determine that a full review of the data collected by PURA since the 1995 law be the basis on which to reform the process in the public interest. An independent, or representative group, could be designated to do the analysis. My suggestion would be a joint contract with nonprofit data analysis organizations. There is one in New Haven and Hartford. No one should have a commercial incentive in any next step and bias is a valid concern.

Confounded by Covid

There was a public hearing via Zoom on Jan 31st. Many individuals, including myself, were listening to the proceedings (as we multi-tasked). An opportunity for public comment was extended at the beginning of the session. No one offered comments. I assumed public comments would be opened again after the planned testimony. Not so.

For more than four hours, the participant interactions were a potpourri of flagrant, confrontational, disparaging, lambasting, obsequious, confusing, uniformed; culminating (in my opinion) in embarrassing, rather than substantive contributions to the public discourse. The proceeding was primarily testimony from cable companies, and self-appointed representatives of the community TV movement.

The roles in this public exchange were all too familiar and (in my opinion) much of the discussion, misdirected. Absent were the community TV representatives whose doors did not close, whose production did not lessen during COVID, who also lost revenue.

The community TV providers ascribed importance to their existence with hyperbole, self-affirmations of years of existence; and focused their contributions to the conversation on losses due to cord-cutting.

The cable companies tried to redirect the conversation to the value of Community TV. Some went as far as to suggest demonstration of community TV’s relevance is nothing but ‘anecdotal’. This is actually true. We are one story at a time. The only data available to community stations is qualitative. Any discussion of value should align with the purpose of community media, a narrowcast of hyper-local citizen media, transparency in government, a partial answer to the digital divide and life-long learning. A case could be made that failure to embrace our unique form of content makes it easier for cord-cutters to choose cutting over community. Value is a very subjective word. The inference that viewer counts measure the worth of community media is an age old tactic. Viewership counts is a whole other conversation.

To put it simply, the hearing was not additive. Nothing new was contributed, no consensus was presented, and no true advocacy for our work was apparent. Suggestion of a collaborative effort to better our mutual service in the public interest was not identified. There was no clear call to action, not even to use the CPI as issued, to update subscriber fees as a minimum outcome.

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 16-331a(k) and §§ 16-331a-1 et seq. of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies requires the Authority to conduct an annual proceeding to adjust community access funding to reflect consumer price index change.

Industry lobbyist, including New England Cable TV Association, Inc., NECTA filed correspondence representing the companies purse strings. Their testimony asserts cable fees’ are television specific, not applicable to Internet services, and the CPI increase should be scrutinized based on the ‘value’ of Community TV in the community.

Going on The Record

Among my duties As the administrator of WPAA-TV, I am responsible for monitoring and responding to various dockets inclusive of filing of an annual report (2021) about what we do with our community. The 2021 Annual Community Access Support Review docket has required multiple replies. We were directly invoked to reply a few times. This was so with questions promulgated by the Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC) regarding amount of, and impact of, losses in cable subscriber fees.[1] [2] [3] WPAA-TV was also directed to reply to Comcast on Feb 4th. It did not go unnoticed that the entity with the staff —the cable company —failed to designate the intended respondents correctly in the docket. Our franchise was not listed and all respondents were linked to all referenced franchise areas. Similarly, these questions may not reach all the designated responders because the service list is faulty. I share this fact, in part, to demonstrate the action by Comcast was to invoke a burden on the proceedings and the little guys, community TV providers.

Today, February 4th,  I was compelled to OBJECT to being burdened with questions posed by Comcast, one of two cable providers serving Wallingford.

My reply to Comcast in PURA DOCKET NO. 21-07-26 follows. For context, an excerpt of the Comcast filing is shown after my objection. Of note, this docket was to be nearing conclusion.

Objection To “first set of interrogatories by Comcast” filed Feb 4

Dear Secretary Gaudiosi:

Understanding that Comcast was granted the opportunity to file interrogatories in the public hearing 01.31.2022, I want to express an Objection to this set of interrogatories and any further interrogatories.

Why? Several reasons, but foremost is that this information is in the public record in Annual Reports.* Additionally, data Is in a recent docket on the PEGPETIA process [07‐10‐11RE01] as well as in the responses to the OCC interrogatories in this docket. There is considerable similarity to the Annual Report and these questions. (PURA Report Form)

On behalf of all community TV staff and volunteers, as I am both, we are not in any position to retrieve, compile and summarize data for these questions. Several entities identified to respond to this request have yet to engage in the docket. I suggest that it is not out of disinterest but rather due to inability. Others have testified about staff shortages. Even the OCC referred to the burden of data collection in the recent public hearing. Others of us are too aware of improprieties, injustices, and inadequacies not to engage—even if our days extend into evenings and weekends.

Indeed, a thorough analysis of the data identified in these questions is warranted. But, that is a research project, which in my opinion needs to be staffed and have accountability to report to PURA and the legislature. Perhaps, a conclusion to study can be set forth in this docket.

There are blemishes to be found on both sides of this uncomfortable marriage between cable companies and the community media enablers. The landscape has changed but the intent of the Cable Act remains more relevant than ever. Collectively, we are failing to provide our communities with adequate benefits from use of the airways. There are several approaches to the work, as well as decades of evidence to review what works and what does not. In my opinion, this docket can make some reparations. Specifically, it can address the disenfranchising of some communities which occurred in 1995 when the state law did not account for various stages of ‘franchise renewals’. Herein, selective CPI adjustments can now be a stop gap.

The inference that viewer counts are the measure of our value is far from accurate. Hyper-local means one-person at a time: a producer so passionate about a topic that hours, days, weeks or years are invested to show others why, a senior participating in a weekly church service on TV from the comfort of their home, a youth who completes the census form as ‘white’ can find a place to express their uncertainty because they are ‘other’, an addict can tune in to testimony on TV when they need a meeting, or listen when redistributed as a podcast, or a child can imagine making movies and realize that dream. There is still the magic of “I was on TV”, despite of the ubiquity of the Internet. Community media is about community connectivity, tools & stage, training and uplifting voices—not cablecast views.

In the public hearing, Attorney Bogan inferred that anecdotal and qualitative data is irrelevant. Yet, government meeting transparency has value in the moment and as archival records. A study might conclude that educational programming has a better means of delivery, or can be a better portal, for other investments in content by our government as lifelong learning.

Why the cable companies across the nation have chosen to disregard the opportunities community television can provide, ‘working together’ with community advocates, is baffling. With years of lack of intentional investment, our collective value has diminished. We remain relevant in so many ways partly because we change lives one person at a time. A true examination of the public record, the proprietary withheld data, and viewer, producer and staff interviews, could make the cable tv investment in community media life-changing for many,

So in conclusion, I object to this request by Comcast and further ask the commissioners to reassess the approval for interrogatories as they likely did not foresee this burden in data collection. In seeking clarification with Comcast, they indicated a desire to have this data as part of this docket. If such a need exists, a list of 2016-2021 Annual Report Dockets and the PEGPETIA process evaluation docket, could be entered into the record to meet that need.
Sincerely,

Susan Huizenga
Volunteer Executive Director
WPAA-TV and Community Media Center
* WPAA-TV Annual Reports our accumulated here


STATE OF CONNECTICUT PUBLIC UTILITIES REGULATORY AUTHORITY
RE: THE PUBLIC UTILITIES REGULATORY AUTHORITY ANNUAL COMMUNITY ACCESS SUPPORT REVIEW : DOCKET NO. 21-07-26

FEBRUARY 4, 2022
COMCAST OF CONNECTICUT INC.’S
FIRST SET OF INTERROGATORIES
Comcast of Connecticut, Inc. (“Comcast”) hereby requests responses from BCTV; Bloomfield Access TV; Citizens Television; Inc.; Community Voice Channel; ETV 18/Access; E. H. Comm. TV.; Guilford Community TV; Madison Community TV; Madison Community Access Group; Newington Community TV; Inc.; North Haven Community TV; Nutmeg TV; Rocky Hill Comm. TV; Sheehan High School; Simsbury Comm. TV; Skye Cable XIII; Soundview; Southeastern CT TV; Thames Valley Comm.; TOTOKET TV; Town of EH Access; Valley Shore Community TV; Wallingford Public Access; Wethersfield Comm. TV; WHC-TV; Windsor Community YV to the following interrogatories in the above-captioned proceeding by February 18, 2022.

Financial Information
COMCAST-1 Provide financial statements for your organization, for the years 2016-2021 reflecting the following information:

• Income
• Salaries
• Assets
• Cash on hand
• Expenses

COMCAST-2 Provide your organization’s tax returns for the years 2016-2021.
COMCAST-3 Has your organization applied for a Public, Educational, and Governmental Programming and Education Technology Investment Account (PEGPETIA) grant at any time during the period 2015-2021? If so, provide the amount sought, and if appropriate, the amount granted.
COMCAST-4 Has your organization applied for any PEGPETIA funding in the current round of funding through Docket 21-10-13? If so, please include the amount of funding requested.
COMCAST-5 Did your organization seek any funding through any COVID-19 economic relief programs, including the Paycheck Protection Program? If so, provide the amount sought, and if applicable, the amount granted.
COMCAST-6 Describe any fundraising efforts undertaken by your organization during the period 2016-2021.
Programming
COMCAST-7 Provide the number of regular users of your access studio and the number of programs produced or originating from your access studio for the period 2016-2021, by year.
Statutory Requirements
COMCAST-8 Reference the criteria set forth Conn. Gen. Stat. §§16-331a(c) and 16-331a(k). If your organization is seeking an increase in per-subscriber funding beyond a percentage reflecting the consumer price index for calendar year 2021, explain how your organization’s request satisfies each of the statutory criteria, as set forth below:

(1) The recommendations of the advisory council and of the municipalities in the franchise area;
(2) a review of the organization’s performance in providing community access programming;
(3) the operating plan submitted by the organization for providing community access programming;
(4) the experience in community access programming of the organization;
(5) the organization’s proposed budget, including expenses for salaries, consultants, attorneys, and other professionals;
(6) the quality and quantity of the programming to be created, promoted or facilitated by the organization;
(7) a review of the organization’s procedures to ensure compliance with federal and state law, including the regulations of Connecticut state agencies,
(8) the level of public interest in community access operations in the franchise area,
(9) the level of community need for educational access programming,
(10) the level and breadth of participation in community access operations,
(11) the adequacy of existing facilities, equipment and training programs to meet the current and future needs of the franchise area; and
(12) any other factors determined to be relevant by the authority

Success in U.S. | SCOW Turns 50


The Spanish Community of Wallingford (SCOW) has a track record of providing basic services for the diverse Spanish speaking immigrants in the Wallingford/Meriden area that spans five decades. Its mission, like the culture & heritage organizations a century old or older, is to respond to and assist with the needs of immigrants as they achieve success in U.S. society.

It is common for immigrant communities to establish formal clubs in order to welcome and serve individuals from their homeland. Such clubs include: The Hungarian Club (104 yrs), the Italian Club in Wallingford (111 yrs) formally known as Libero Pensiero Mutual Aid Society, and the Polish National Alliance (122 yrs). Some have strong affiliations with places of faith like the Irish Ancient Order of Hibernian Club, Meriden (186 yrs NYC) and the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven with roots 168 yrs deep. Each organization serves as an important base for cultural heritage and community engagement to this day. Unlike many of the cultural immigrant organizations that precede it, The Spanish Community of Wallingford (50yrs) serves the local Latino Community, which arrives from various points around the globe. The new arrivals share a language, some traditions, and the universal desire to succeed in the USA.

A Decade of Language Literacy with local-global TV

A decade ago, during a frank conversation about not being multilingual, the concept of #in2languages #en2idiomas television program was born. This program, a language literacy ‘learn by watching TV’ show, became a collaboration between SCOW and WPAA-TV. The pilot #in2languages #en2idiomas was launched in 2013. Initially, WPAA-TV scheduled programs when the likelihood was high that community members would be in SCOW’s lobby where a television was tuned to WPAA-TV.

When individuals in our organizations, network and experience each other’s programs, we find ways to amplify our mutual interest in public service.

At first, program content was underwritten by a grant and contract arrangement between WPAA-TV and Deutsche Welle, the German media company. When the grant ended in 2017, Ion Bank helped with the acquisition cost of Spanish language content for one year. They also underwrote production of  promotional videos for #in2languages #en2idiomas. By this time, content had expanded to three news magazines. The scheduling was midday from Monday to Friday and simulcast on the Internet by WPAA-TV.

Two members of the SCOW community, with the help of Team Hercules interns, provided some transparency on language learning with their personal stories. It may be hard to believe but the ubiquity of television is as old as SCOW. Sitcoms and other serial television programs have been a resource for language literacy for many immigrants since in the 1970s, starting with the AARP generation. 

Community collaborations can transform lives.

Within this collaboration, each organization has a role. SCOW commits to representing the content for play as #GoodEnough2Share. SCOW is publicly identified as representing content for local play and as with all Good Enough2Share programs, SCOW assumes some promotional responsibilities. WPAA-TV handles all the administration including contracting, downloading, ingesting, scheduling and processing payment for content. 

#in2languages #en2idiomas now includes four news magazines. The latest show added to the line-up is the health news magazine In Good Shape | En Forma. Content is now scheduled midday from Monday to Saturday. This content becomes more than a great source for quality news based on how it is scheduled. The same news magazines, in each language, are scheduled consecutively. This approach creates an opportunity for viewers to learn either English or Spanish while viewing current global news. The 11:30 am-12:30 pm hour is cablecast in Spanish, including Public Service Announcements.

For more about the program go here.

In2Languages Days and Times

Community Support Keeps Language Literacy on WPAA-TV

Content and administrative costs are about $1,000 each annually. Donations received in the Annual Great Give from friends of WPAA-TV and SCOW help underwrite the cost of the exceptional magazine style content contracted from DW.DE. Grassroots support (donations as low as $5 a year) help us demonstrate the value of this program to the community. If you are just hearing about this for the first time, we encourage you to watch. If you agree with us that it is a excellent public service, we look forward to your support in May during TheGreatGive. 2022 updates will be live April 1st.

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