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The History of Public Access Television


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.