Paynesville Press - January 9, 2002

Community Perspective

Public access TV benefits are missing

By Don Torbenson

When the franchise for cable TV was approved by the city around 1970, FCC regulations mandated that the cable company provide one channel for the exclusive use of the local community. A franchise fee of five percent was also collected by the cable company that was turned over to the city to help with programming on the local channel.

At the time, the programming was left to the school. A class in TV broadcasting was taught and a weekly school news program was produced and broadcast along with other school programs of interest to the public.

It was my dream that programming would grow as it has in other communities, but for 30 years it has only been used to make coming event announcements and to explain city ordinances and community services, which are watched by very few people.

What could and should be done to make the best use of this public access channel that has been provided for our use?

In negotiating a new contract with Mediacom, we have asked for and expect to receive money for new equipment and drops so that live broadcasts may be made from city hall, the township hall, the high school, and the area center.

The new cameras and playback equipment should enable us to record and later broadcast concerts and programs in the new auditorium and at other locations. Many of our shut-ins and elderly seniors are unable to attend these programs and would appreciate the opportunity to see them on cable TV.

Only one church service is now broadcast regularly. We would hope that other local churches would want to broadcast their services for the shut-ins and that programs that promote the library, the schools, and the Paynesville Area Center would be part of the regular programming. Many things of interest are going on in our community.

What is needed to accomplish these goals?

First, the city council and the township board need to pass a resolution dedicating the five percent franchise fee toward the development and promotion of programming on the public access channels. That is part of what we are paying for when we pay our cable TV bill each month. If your monthly cable bill is $40, your franchise fee is $2 or $24 per year.

With these funds there would be more than enough money to hire sufficient, capable help to seek out and develop the kind of programming that needs to be done to present programs of interest to many people.

A schedule of programs to be broadcast should be placed in the paper every week so that people may select those programs that they want to watch.

Talk to your friends in Willmar, New London, Melrose, Hutchinson, and other towns throughout the state and nation. You will find that we are not receiving all the programming that the FCC intended when we subscribe to cable service.

If you will do so, I am confident that you will agree that the people in this community could be much better served by our public access channels. Call or write to your elected officials if you would like to see changes.

Torbenson is a former school superintendent, a member of the city's cable commission, and is active at the Paynesville Area Center.

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