PDF Print Email
Community television or "PEG TV" is a local platform for communication.  It fills a unique niche in the media landscape, providing communities with the opportunity to create programs of local interest. 
In Wisconsin, stations are typically managed by local governments or school districts and sometimes by a non-profit organization.  Because of this, these stations are very sensitive to the needs of their communities.  While you can search through millions of YouTube videos for programs from around the world, community TV plays videos of interest to your town. 
Community TV can be seen on cable television systems and oftentimes through the web.  Many stations offer Video-On-Demand viewing or stream their channels live on the web. All community access stations welcome the participation of the community:  schools, churches, businesses, individuals, non-profit organizations, and local officials.  Whether you are on one side of the camera or the other,  community television will have you involved in your community like you have never been involved before!
Making community media better.  The Benton Foundation did a study of community television in 2007 called, "What's Going on in Community Media." "Benton sought input on key aspects of community media practice, with the goal of understanding how community media can be sustained, strengthened, and expanded. The scan research focused on four key areas of inquiry:
• What are the unique characteristics that distinguish community media?
• What makes media-community collaborations successful?
• What types of community media organizations best leverage new technologies?
• How might community media engage underserved populations in programming tailored to their needs?
Who watches community media?  The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) commissioned a study by Connie Book in 2003 that American Community Television quoted in this piece, Viewership and PEG Access Channels.   In this article, Are Community Media Programs Competitive Against Commercial Shows? John Foust takes a look at how competitive community programs are against commercial programming.

Listing of community media centers:  McCausland's U.S. Community Access TV Providers (crowdsourced document)

History.  Community television or "PEG access television" has been around since the 1970's and has a long proud history of providing a platform for local communications.  If you'd like to read some early history about "access," read The History of Public Access Television.  (Author: Bill Olson (c) 2000).  We'll post other good articles about access television from time to time here.
Types of Access:  There are three main types of stations, but many access centers manage more than one type of access: 


  Public Access Stations are managed by non-profits, local governments or (very occasionally) cable companies in Wisconsin.  Public access stations train residents to produce programming and increasingly, they are also teaching residents how to navigate through the new world of social media.  These stations pride themselves on helping residents and organizations with the technical aspects of program production.  Public access programming ranges from music to issues discussion.  Public access is a great platform for local business, local non-profit organizations, issues discussion, and the arts.


   Educational Access Stations.  These are managed by educational institution, frequently the local school district.  These stations provide school-age youth the opportunity to learn about media by doing media.  Classes include media literacy, video production, computer graphics, script-writing, and journalism.  Besides showcasing student-produced finished video productions, schools use these channels to recognize the work of students from science fairs to dramatic skits.  School Board Meetings are frequently cablecast.


  Government access stations are managed and programmed by local governments.  If you want gavel-to-gavel coverage of meetings, learn about the latest street renovations, find out about economic development plans for downtown, or hear about regional collaborative efforts, this is the place to look.


Funding.  Video providers such as Charter, AT&T or Time-Warner pay a 5% franchise fee on the company's video revenues to the city they serve.  This fee reimburses the people of the community for use of the rights-of-way to do business.  Many cities use all or part of this fee to fund community television.  Others use this fee for other city priorities. 

Until early 2011 approximately 30 communities also received a dedicated monthly fee from subscribers called a PEG (public, education, and government) fee.  This fee ensured stations would have funding for equipment -- and some stations, like Madison's WYOU, Wausau Area Access Channels, West Allis Community Media, and Chippewa Valley Community Television also negotiated with companies to use this fee for operating costs.  This funding mechanism was eliminated in January 2011 as a consequence of the passage of Wisconsin's State Cable Franchise Law, the state legislation that restructured how video service providers do business in Wisconsin.  As a consequence, Wausau's station downsized dramatically, West Allis's public access station has closed entirely, and WYOU is operating with volunteers as long as they can hold out.  Chippewa Valley Community Television the access station based in Eau Claire, has had to heavily cut back their public access services -- those that serve individuals in the community. 

Community television stations often hold fundraising events, such as telethons and chicken dinners.  Local businesses support community television by underwriting some programs. Some stations sell time on their community bulletin boards. Most stations also sell DVD copies of the programs they produce.  Stations also earn money by offering training courses to people interested in learning to produce their own videos.  Others require membership in the station to those who would simply like the station to play their program on the channel.  All of these efforts, however, cannot fund a fully-functioning television station.

What is the franchise fee?

This is a fee added to your monthly cable bill based on a 5% percentage of the video portion of your bill.  It is paid to your city. Your city decides how to spend it.  It becomes "general revenue" to offset property taxes. Your city may decide to support your community television channel with some of this revenue.  This is appropriate since the funds are collected from cable subscribers.  Companies pay this fee to cities because of the value they receive from using city streets and easements for their cable plant.  This fee is paid to all members of the community for using public property for private commercial gain.

What are "PEG fees"?

Since the 1980s federal law has allowed cities to include an additional fee on your monthly cable bill as a direct method of supporting your community television station. However, Wisconsin eliminated this funding mechanism in January 2011 as a consequence of the passage of Wisconsin Act 42, the state legislation that restructured how video service providers can do business in Wisconsin.  Unfortunately, this law decreased funding for community television, increased our expenses, and made it harder to find community television on the line-up.