PUBLIC ACCESS TELEVISION
Public access television [PATV] is the availability of one or more non-commercial television stations to the general public. These stations were created to provide a free-speech forum, open to all without discrimination or favoritism based on content.
PATV is about the exercise of our First Amendment rights, which offers us protection for everything we want to say that is not deemed pornographic or obscene according to community standards.
Community producers -- any resident who wants to be trained and becomes certified -- make the programs that can be viewed on these channels. Management provides them the training, facility and equipment to get their messages out on cable television.
Free speech on the local level has become increasingly important as large media companies merge and consolidate, taking over the management of a great many TV and radio stations, cable companies, magazines, newspapers, the Internet and book publishing companies. As a result, media staffs have been drastically reduced and local community coverage has severely decreased, if it is at all available.
If we aren't mindful, we may soon hear only one voice defining the news of the day or acting as government watchdog or providing commentary. This situation makes it more critical than ever to our democracy that we do all that we can to assure that the diverse voices of public access television are heard for generations to come.
HISTORY - UNITED STATES
In 1968 the Dale City, Virginia Jaycees’ Junior Chamber of Commerce operated the first community-operated closed-circuit television channel in the United States, when Cable TV Incorporated gave a channel to the public access center, Dale City Television (DCTV), but the center failed two years later. [Today, there are almost 400 public access channels in the United States.]
In 1972, the FCC required all cable systems in the top 100 U.S. television markets to provide three access channels, one each for public, educational and local government use. [Together, these three channels are referred to as PEG access channels.]
The rule was amended in 1976 to include cable systems in communities with 3,500 or more subscribers. But, in 1979 the US Supreme Court, in FCC v. Midwest Video Corp., set aside the FCC's rules as beyond the agency's jurisdiction. The 1984 Cable Franchise Policy and Communications Act written by Senator Barry Goldwater allowed local governments to require PEG channels, barred cable operators from exercising editorial control over the content of programs carried on PEG channels, and absolved them from liability for that content.
Congress passed the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992, which gave the FCC authority to create rules requiring cable operators to prohibit certain shows. The Alliance for Community, an advocacy and lobbying organization that supports public access television – and in which Speak Up maintains membership –, and others brought suit, and in 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court held the law unconstitutional, in part because it required cable operators to act on behalf of the federal government to control expression based on content.
Currently, the Alliance for Community Media and others are focusing on operational challenges after new deregulation rules in various states – including Florida – took away local government controls and began directly threatening PEG access in those states. TBCN is now the only public access station left standing in the State of Florida. It is trying to get the Consumer Protection Act of 2007 amended to better protect the PEG channels.
HISTORY – HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY
Launched on the campus of the University of Tampa, PATV was established by the City of Tampa in 1985 and in unincorporated Hillsborough County in 1987. [Neither Plant City nor Temple Terrace provide PATV to their residents.] Cable operators including Tampa Cable, Jones Intercable and Time Warner managed the facility until April 3, 2000, when Speak Up Tampa Bay Public Access Television, Inc., a 501[c] non-profit corporation, was contracted by local government to take over that responsibility. Speak Up operates the channels as Tampa Bay Community Network [TBCN] from a 5,000-square-feet storefront space at University Mall, which is located at 2200 E. Fowler Avenue, Tampa, FL 33612. The facility is used by TBCN members, university students and TBCN’s Training and Outreach departments.
HISTORY – SPEAK UP TAMPA BAY
Speak Up Tampa Bay was formed in the early 1990’s to promote civic journalism, a movement that attempts to abandon the notion that the media and their audiences are spectators in the political and social process and to, instead, treat both as active participants in community life. It encourages the media to enhance social capital by providing coverage of the issues, events and problems that are important to ordinary people. It also strives to better connect ordinary people with the media in order to promote and encourage civic engagement.
To that end, throughout the mid-1990’s, Speak Up promoted community dialogue by hosting open forums and providing a neutral public space for citizens to come together to identify and discuss issues facing the community. Forums were attended by as many as 200-300 people who were asked to identify their concerns and to discuss with one another potential solutions. To assist them, Speak Up invited local government officials, elected representatives and the media to attend so that they could hear and, hopefully, give voice to the concerns expressed.
In 1997, a pending renewal of the cable television franchise agreement between Time Warner and the City of Tampa generated a search for a non-profit organization to assume management of the public access television channels that were then operated and managed by Time Warner. Speak Up, which incorporated in 1997 as a 501[c] non-profit, was asked to fill this role.
Recognizing that public access television provides a vehicle for the promotion of community dialogue, Speak Up submitted a proposal to manage the public access facilities, equipment and other resources in August 1998. An agreement with the City of Tampa was signed in March 2000. Speak Up took over management of the facility on April 3, 2000. An agreement with Hillsborough County to provide public access management was signed on July 10, 2000. Hillsborough County stopped funding the station on September 30, 2007. The City of Tampa has continued its support of TBCN through this writing.
Speak Up Tampa Bay is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors, which sets policy and provides direction to an Executive Director, who, in turn, manages day-to-day operations.