Under the guise of promoting broadband investment and deployment, the Federal Communications Commission met on August 1 and adopted new rules concerning MB Docket No. 05-311 that would further reduce funds that cities and towns receive to operate local television stations. By a 3 to 2 vote, the FCC adopted new rules to deduct “in-kind contributions” from the five percent cap of gross revenues cable operators are required to pay to towns for using public rights of way to deliver cable TV services to their customers.
This is tough news for WestfordCAT, the organization that the town of Westford has designated to operate its public, education and government channels. “We’ve already seen a reduction in our funding from the cable companies, due to lost cable TV subscriptions,” said Executive Director Lauren Horton. “Further reducing these fees by the market value of items that were included in the town’s franchise agreements with the cable operators could be devastating to us.”
In her dissent, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel writes, “This agency should seize opportunities to reinvigorate local newsgathering and community coverage.” “Today’s decision misses the mark. That’s because it cuts at public, educational, and governmental channels across the country. It goes beyond placing reasonable limits on contributions subject to the statutory franchise fee and jeopardizes the day-to-day costs, like staff and overhead, required to run such stations.”
Horton anticipates that the cable companies will be notifying the town what “in-kind contributions” they will be charging against their franchise fees, along with their value, before they go into effect. For Westford, these could include items such as complimentary basic cable services to town buildings and schools.
“Now, we just have to wait and see what the cable companies come back with,” said Horton.