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Bill Would Require Digital Streaming Providers to Pay for Public Right of Way

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With internet users across the country pulling the plug on their cable services, community access TV stations are turning to lawmakers for help.

At least one local Legislator has been paying attention. Last year, state Rep. Paul McMurtry (Dedham-D) filed House bill #4045 that seeks to establish a 5 percent fee on digital streaming providers.

“The evolution of technology and entertainment and delivery systems has continued to change — it has an impact on the local access television in our communities,” McMurtry said. “This will establish a 5 percent Legislative fee on digital streaming providers which use the public right of way free of charge.”

McMurtry appeared on WestfordCAT’s “Main Street” program with his colleague state Rep. James Arciero (Westford-D). McMurtry is chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development. He serves Dedham, Westwood, and the Eighth Precinct of Walpole.

A former radio disc jockey and DVD store owner, McMurtry owns the Dedham Community Theater. He also served, years ago, on a community access TV board of trustees, he said.

Displaying an entrepreneurial spirit, McMurtry said, “This is an opportunity to find some sort of revenue stream so that we can continue to provide local access to residents of the commonwealth.”

If passed as written, bill 4045 would distribute one-fifth of the funds collected to the commonwealth General Fund, two-fifths to municipalities and local governments, and two-fifths to the communities.

According to the bill, “the Streaming Entertainment Fund shall make bi-annual distributions on March 1 and September 1 of each year. On those dates, the Streaming Entertainment Fund shall distribute, with no remainder left, all monies then held in the Fund…”

Arciero, who covers Westford, Littleton and part of Chelmsford, said he supports the bill.

But both he and McCurtry acknowledge the bill is unlikely to be acted upon before the end of the session this month — an impact of COVID-19 which set back the lawmakers’ schedule.

“Here we are at the end of the Legislative session, and almost on our way to the holiday season and Christmas and we still have five conference committees, major pieces of legislation that typically we wouldn’t be working to the Jan. 1 deadline…,” said Arciero.