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Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006
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BCTV staff broadcast Brattleboro’s Representative Annual Town Meeting in 2016.

Voices / Viewpoint

Community must keep public access programming healthy

Amid changing circumstances, BCTV wants its viewers to participate in community life — wherever, however, and whenever they want. But that continued coverage will require less reliance on cable subsidies and more support from towns and individual donors.

Cor Trowbridge has been the executive director of Brattleboro Community Television since 2006.

Brattleboro

Last year, Brattleboro Community Television went before selectboards in our service area for the first time to request funding to support video coverage of municipal meetings and Representative Town Meeting.

The request was initiated in response to a proposed change by the Federal Communications Commission to the Cable Act, which established cable-subscriber fees as the primary source of support for public access television in 1984.

Despite thousands of letters filed in opposition, the change was passed and went into effect on Sept. 26, 2019.

While it appears that the funding decline from this action will materialize less precipitously than we feared, there is still no question that revenues traditionally collected from cable-subscriber fees will continue to decrease over time due to this change and two other powerful national trends: Cord-cutting by cable viewers for online streaming sources and anti-regulatory pressure by telecom corporations.

In October, you may have read about the settlement of a lawsuit between Comcast and the Vermont Public Utilities Commission that resolved issues related to public access television that arose during the company’s renewal in 2017 of its Certificate of Public Good.

As this and the FCC action were in the news at the same time, there was some confusion from the Reformer’s headline (“Comcast agreement protects public access television”) as to whether the agreement with the PUC meant our funding was no longer threatened.

This is not the case, as the lawsuit addressed primarily technical issues.

Therefore, to ensure that we can provide the services that residents rely on, BCTV will continue to request funding support for the 2021 fiscal year from the eight municipalities we serve.

* * *

BCTV’s request doesn’t cover the cost of our service but helps fill the gap created by the decline in cable subscriber fees. This revenue will allow towns to continue to have regular Selectboard meetings and Brattleboro’s Representative Town Meeting covered without additional charge, along with residents being able to use BCTV’s equipment and facilities to create their own shows.

In light of these trends, BCTV’s board and staff are working to diminish our financial dependence on local cable subscriber fees. Though over 50 percent of our viewers access our programs online, BCTV receives no compensation from streaming views. We are asking producers who use our facilities to pitch in. We are also reaching out to the community to increase donations and underwriting.

Next year, BCTV will mark 45 years as your community TV station. Our mission is to promote civic engagement and transparency and empower community members to share their knowledge, views, and creativity, without prejudice.

We want to remain an indispensable connector of your community, available on all current platforms, airing and archiving important town meetings “gavel-to-gavel” and covering local events so that viewers can participate in community life — wherever, however, and whenever you want.

We are grateful to the Selectboards and local voters who supported BCTV when we came before you, recognizing the value of the resource that our service provides. We are tremendously grateful to our donors and underwriters, who gave more than ever before during our first-ever funding appeal.

And to our local producers, who create 1,000 hours of award-winning local programs each year and who accepted an increase in our membership fees without question: Without you, there is no BCTV.

Will BCTV be here for our 50th? Stay tuned.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #544 (Wednesday, January 15, 2020). This story appeared on page C1.

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