Don’t let feds, state take away OCTV’s funding

When it comes to covering what’s happening in the big city, across the nation and around the world, there’s no shortage of media outlets to tell the story 24-7.

However, when it comes to covering what’s happening right in your own backyard, the amount of media shrinks considerably.

That’s why it’s so important to support community-based media in all of its forms because without it, there’s no one to tell our story.

Sure, the big media outlets swoop into town whenever there’s a particularly heinous crime, juicy scandal, senseless tragedy or an angry mob ready to lynch local officials.

The rest of the time, they couldn’t care less about places like Oxford and Addison. Communities like ours don’t exist in their world unless there’s something big enough to grab ratings and readers – or it’s a really slow news day. Why cover the provinces when Rome is on fire?

Fortunately, this area has its own 120-year-old newspaper, The Oxford Leader, and its own public access television station, Oxford Community Television (OCTV), to serve as reporters of current events and chroniclers of local history.

We’re both here 365 days a year, covering it all – government meetings, high school sports, choir and band concerts, church functions, fund-raisers, civic clubs, human interest stories, local businesses, parades, festivals, awards, milestones, the list goes on and on.

Most of what we cover is probably considered to be a bit mundane by big media outlets, but we understand a community is much more than just its splashy stories.

A community’s life, like a person’s life, is largely comprised of little moments – the things that happen every day while people are working, playing, parenting, teaching, praying, leading, giving, caring, laughing, learning and inspiring.

It’s these moments that define a community. It’s these moments that define us.

Most of what the Leader and OCTV cover are these little moments. They won’t make national headlines or the 11 o’clock news, but they’re still important because it’s the story of our neighbors, friends and family. It’s the story of us.

In a world where Big Media continues to be globalized, homogenized and consolidated, community-based media offers an alternative that is local, diverse and independent.

Unfortunately, the big wigs in the twin cesspools of Washington D.C. and Lansing are considering taking action that would negatively and drastically impact funding for OCTV and other public access stations.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed new rules that would allow cable operators to assign a value to the public, educational and governmental (PEG) channels they’re required to set aside as part of cable franchise agreements, then subtract that amount – plus the value they place on any other in-kind contributions, such as free service to schools – from the franchise fees they pay to local communities.

Franchise fees are what cable providers are required to pay municipalities for their use of public rights-of-way. In reality, it’s the cable subscribers who actually pay these fees as cable companies simply pass the cost along to them via their monthly bills.

The result of this proposed FCC rule change would be less money for communities and in turn, less money for stations like OCTV that rely on franchise fees as their primary source of funding. That means less equipment, less employees, less community coverage, less us.

Actually, the proposed FCC rule change could mean zero money for OCTV and other public access stations if cable providers claim  the value of PEG channels and in-kind services exceeds the franchise fees currently paid.

But it’s not just the elites in Washington D.C. that are threatening OCTV’s existence.

At the state level, there’s Senate Bill 637, an overly-complicated, jargon-laden, 36-page piece of legislation that would allow the telecommunications industry to use taxpayer-supported rights-of-way for practically nothing. It would basically give away public property to a private industry. SB 637 also curtails local control and ultimately, puts cable franchise fees at risk as the cable industry will seek equal treatment.

There are those who will undoubtedly argue that having cable providers pay less – or nothing – in franchise fees is a good thing because that means subscribers will pay less.

Yeah, right.

Who in their right mind honestly thinks if the government cuts costs for cable companies, they will automatically and generously pass that savings along to consumers?

The more likely scenario is subscriber bills will stay the same, while cable companies play with the numbers and make flimsy excuses about why they need to pocket the savings.

Together, these potential actions at the federal and state levels threaten to severely diminish, if not end, public access television.

We can’t let that happen.

Full disclosure, my wife Connie has been employed at OCTV since January 2017 and hosts a cooking show on it, “Connie’s Kitchen.”

But the record shows I was an ardent supporter of OCTV long before she started working there because I believe in the power and importance of community-based media.

I’ve never viewed OCTV as competition.

To me, OCTV and the Leader complement each other. The Leader provides OCTV with content for its local news program. OCTV provides us with recordings of government meetings whenever we’re unable to attend.

Over the years, we’ve shared stories, tips and ideas. We’ve promoted each other. We’ve always worked well together.

It’s a good relationship and I would like to see it continue because I truly believe OCTV benefits the community.

OCTV informs, entertains, educates and engages.

OCTV brings the community into the living rooms of folks who are unable to leave their homes due to age, disability or health issues and helps them feel connected.

OCTV keeps an eye on local government by recording for posterity every word officials utter and every vote they take during public meetings.

OCTV provides jobs. OCTV provides training and experience for the next generation of videographers, editors, producers and on-air personalities. OCTV provides retirees with a place to contribute and feel valuable. OCTV provides opportunities for volunteers and interns alike.

OCTV gives folks a place to hone their talents and skills, explore their passions, develop professionalism and bring their visions to life.

OCTV is part of the fabric of this community and we can’t let the state and federal governments take it away from us.

Our elected officials are supposed to work for us, not the cable industry or any other private industry, for that matter. They should be listening to our voices, not those of paid-lobbyists. They should be doing what’s best for us, not them.

Contact our elected representatives and tell them you’re strongly opposed to the FCC’s proposed rule change and Michigan Senate Bill 637.

Tell them you believe in maintaining community-based media. Tell them you want the story of your community told. Tell them you want to keep television that reflects you.

Tell them, “I want my OCTV!”

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