Should public access move to over-the-air digital multicast?

FoxCitiesTV's picture
Green Bay

So I've been enjoying the new digital multicast channels from WPNE and WBAY and it got me thinking...

During the whole public hoopla over the so-called "Video competition bill," one of the things that came up is how it would jeopardize public access TV channels on cable. As someone who has -- and on a limited basis, still does -- work on local municipal government meeting broadcasts, I see a lot of value in public access television. Sure, there's a lot of stuff I don't (or WON'T) watch, but that's the essence of public access.

So here's what I was wondering...

Now that we're less than a year away from being an 'all-digital TV' nation, and we clearly have an interest in digital multicasting in this area, should public access move to a local broadcaster's digital multicast channel? Either on a "leased out" basis or as a public service one local broadcaster gives to the community. It would certainly be available to more people than it is now (including those with satellite, or NO multichannel TV service at all).

What do you think?

Posted February 22, 2008 4:27pm in
Willscary's picture

Yes. A station such as WFRV,


A station such as WFRV, which has no sub channels, could lease one of its sub channels to local public access channels. Cities could lease the airwaves, paying more for premium prime time. New London could show its city council meetings on Tuesdays at 11 PM. Appleton could pay for a 7 PM slot. Kaukauna might like Thursdays at 9 PM. There would be plenty of airtime to go around. Interested parties could then record the programs and watch at their convenience. I guess, that is, IF they ever resume making DVRs that can be used without royalty fees to TIVO.

HCN3's picture

My concern would be the

My concern would be the effect it would have on the primary channel of the broadcast network. My father-in-law can get channel 2 and the ABC channel out of Milwaukee. Since the additional of RTN 2-3, he has noticed a drop in the HD quality of the primary WBAY channel 2-1. He actually contacted the station engineer about it and told him that they changed to the Milwaukee station to watch Eli Stone.

Overall, I think it would be a great idea. If it is public access, shouldn't that be a subchannel on the PBS broadcast channels then? Most of the public access is also taxpayer funded so I would think that would be the perfect broadcast channel to handle it.

Just think... city council meetings in High-Def... Stunning ;-)

Andy's picture

This is an interesting

This is an interesting concept, but there are some big hurtles to overcome. For one, the link between the access facility and the broadcaster could prove challenging to accomplish. Sending the signal via streaming video wouldn't be "broadcast quality", and the costs of buying microwave transmission gear could bust an access facility's equipment budget. Access facilities are now having to deal with buying encoders for linking to AT&T's U-Verse service in this area, so budgets are shrinking already.

Then, there's the funding issue. Video service providers (Time Warner, Charter, AT&T) pay municipalities a 5% fee to operate. Municipalities can then use these funds to operate the local access channels. Funding goes from the provider TO the access facility. I can't see an access station going onto a multicast broadcast channel unless that carriage would be provided for FREE by the broadcaster, or where the broadcaster would agree to share any advertising dollars the access channel could generate. Again, the dollars are tight to begin with and it's unclear whether the larger audience would benefit the access facility's budget. Plus, the access facility might not have the staffing to send someone out to go and sell airtime... usually there isn't enough staff to do the daily work anyway.

Last, access channels are relevant for the communities they serve. For example, would someone in Green Bay really want to see what's happening at the Oshkosh City Council or vice-versa? The viewer would probably be miffed that the access channel is taking up bandwidth that could be used to enhance the HD program on the station's primary channel. I think the best way for access channels to expand their reach is to offer their content over the Internet. The channel in Oshkosh is doing this at with a new website. Hopefully with all of the changes happening in the digital transition we won't lose our local programming sources like access channels. Support them in any way you can!

HCN3's picture

I would agree that probably

I would agree that probably the best alternative would be some type of on-line distribution. The issue I see with that is to convince local governments that the investment in the technology needed to do this is worth it. Some local governments like the fact that, unless you directly attend the meetings, you are about a day behind what they are doing. You have to wait to see it in the newspaper and by that time it's too late to fix anything.


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