By Mark Q. Rhoads
When I first moved to Falls Church in 1984, the late Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona) wrote and passed the Cable Communications Policy Act. A part of that law allowed local communities to negotiate a franchise fee with cable TV providers to create public access community TV. Like many other cities in Virginia and the nation that same year, citizens of Falls Church used the new authority to create a three-party agreement to provide a community TV channel carried by the cable TV providers that then served the city. These agreements in all parts of America are called PEG agreements and that stands for Public, Education, and Government.
Last summer I was asked to become a member of the Public Board for Falls Church Community TV, or FCCTV. I was happy to join with a very talented and experienced team of board members with special backgrounds in TV production, communications law, and accounting. The Public Board members include Board President Ken Feltman who is past president of the International Association of Political Consultants; Treasurer Richard Rankin who is an MBA whose work for our Public Boards was commended by the CPA firm of Diener and Associates; Amanda Lovins who is the marketing and development manager and a videographer for Creative Cauldron; Melissa Robison who has produced videos for Time-Life; and Robert Shiretta who has produced TV programs in Falls Church for the last 17 years that reach an international audience. Mr. Feltman and Mr. Shiretta want to include more news about Chamber of Commerce members in Falls Church.
But it became apparent to me very quickly that the 1984 agreement is obsolete in 2016 for many reasons including technological innovations. The agreement is also obsolete for the changing needs and priorities of the three parties which are the Public Board, the school system, and the government of Falls Church City.
Back In 1984 cable TV providers relied on coaxial cable and telephone land lines only used copper wire. Fiber optical cable was extremely rare in 1984 and high definition television was only experimental in some countries. Old copper wire has now been replaced by fiber optic cables in most of the country for both telephone landline voice calls and is the new standard for transmission of HDTV which itself became the new American standard for broadcast in 1993 and only recently became a reality for most homes.
American Community Television Association estimates there are now there are well over 1,500 Public, Educational and Government, known as PEG, access centers in the United States and there may be as many as 5,000 cable television channels managed by these centers.
Whether it’s local government meetings, school board sessions, religious or political programming, youth programming, distance learning, music or entertainment programming…these local community channels are a powerful voice for democracy.
In a time when media consolidation is rampant and many local newspapers have a decline in readers, PEG access television has taken on greater importance as a voice for, about and by the community.
There are well-run community TV channels in Fairfax County, Arlington, and Alexandria that provide great programming for their residents and still manage to balance the needs of the Public, the educational system, and the local government. But in Falls Church, the Public Board program opportunities of FCCTV have suffered the most because staff time has been disproportionately assigned to only the needs and supervision of the city government rather than applied in an even manner as stipulated in the PEG agreement for FCCTV.
The modern state of the art studio and equipment for FCCTV are located in the George Mason High School where they should be easy to use by students and citizens who want to produce public programs. Other equipment is located at City Hall to cover City Council and Planning Commission hearings. But under the current operation supervised by city employees instead of by the Public Board, access to the station has become so needlessly cumbersome and unfriendly to the public programmers that the independent public board is blocked from doing the job it is supposed to do and is capable of doing.
The station operation does not need to be adversarial but new ideas are needed. Although Falls Church is a little city, we can still have public programming as good as our neighbors in Fairfax County, Arlington, and Alexandria. As a new board member in search of new solutions I am only asking that the Falls Church City Council cooperate with Public Board members to scrap the obsolete 1984 agreement and work with us to re-imagine a new agreement that is fair to all parties including the public access programmers.
Mark Rhoads is a member of the Falls Church Cable Access Corporation Board.