Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Why I Don’t Participate in Cable Access Programming

Submitted by by Christina Hazelwood

Although the village of Downers Grove, where I am a resident, has a fully functioning public access television station, I have been unable to get access to it. In spite of federal and local laws that specify a resident’s right to participate, in spite of the contribution that, I, as a resident make to the village in the form of taxes and cable fees, in spite of my efforts to exercise my rights, the village refuses to provide access.

The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates cable companies, gives franchising authorities like the village of Downers Grove, the right to require cable companies to set aside channels for local Public, Educational, or Governmental (PEG) use, as well as services, facilities, or equipment. Although cities and villages have this right, not all of them exercise it. The franchising authority, in this case the village of Downers Grove, is not allowed to control the content of programming on PEG stations, other than enforcement of obscenity restrictions.

Governing authorities, like the village, establish franchise agreements that specify their relationship with their cable provider. Cable companies pay the local authority, a percent of fees collected, typically from 5% to 5.5% for the privilege of providing its population with service. In its franchise agreement, the village of Downers Grove requires the cable company to provide three PEG channels, but only one is active (Channel 6). Legally, anyone who lives in the village of Downers Grove is allowed to create programming and have access to the village's television station, its equipment, and the airwaves for which the residents pay through their tax dollars and cable fees.

Downers Grove village law (Resolution 96-13) establishes rules under which residents may exercise their right to participate in the PEG station for which they pay. The intent of the resolution is to provide a method through which residents may make their voices heard. But instead the village uses the provisions of the resolution to restrict access and thereby prevent any undesirable information about the village or its activities from reaching residents.

How the village gets around the law is by putting in a clause that requires residents to take classes before they are “qualified” to have access to the station. This sounds reasonable in theory, but here’s the catch. The village then does not offer any classes, assuring that the public does not get access to the equipment, station or airwaves for which it pays.

By not providing classes, no residents become “qualified” to produce programs and all dissenting voices are squashed. In this way the village is able to eliminate public discourse and crush the rights imbued upon its citizens by law. No information or issues that may reflect poorly on the village or its activities is made public. In other countries this is called censorship. The village’s strategy insures that residents are unable to share any knowledge, information, or creative endeavors they have to offer the community at large. Programming that may potentially benefit the residents and the village is thereby made mute and void.

Not only does the village not offer classes, thereby insuring that no dissenting voices are heard, it also makes sure that the taxpaying, cable fee contributing residents are unaware that these rights to express themselves exist at all. The village flaunts its own laws of public access and takes over the station and airwaves for which the residents pay, using it as a pulpit to show a continuous stream of programming about how wonderful the village of Downers Grove and its associated governments are.

If the village was truly interested in allowing residents to exercise their public access rights, lawfully given to them and for which they pay, Downers Grove would offer classes on a regular basis, and post the dates, times, and locations of the classes on their web site, in the village newsletter, in local newspapers, and on the public access television station that it has commandeered. Instead, the village colludes to prevent its residents from knowing about their rights and gaining access to them.

The village and its representatives provide lip service about what an open, wonderful community Downers Grove is and then take measures to assure that the status quo is maintained. The few programs that get aired in which residents participate (to my knowledge there are three of them) are done in the studio under the watchful eye of village employees.
Neighboring communities such as Wheaton and Glen Ellyn, who have similar local laws, manage to provide regular open classes to their residents, allowing them to be “qualified” as producers and share valuable information in the form of programming. These villages seek out the participation of their residents and actually demonstrate an interest in hearing what their taxpaying, cable fee providing residents have to say.

In Downers Grove if a resident wants to take the required classes in order become qualified, the resident is placed on a “list” and is told that the village will be in contact when it decides to have a class. I requested to be placed on this list four years ago, have made several follow up telephone calls, and have yet to be contacted about a class. And further, although I've made movies, videos, and commercials, in the eyes of the village I am not qualified to produce cable access programming. This is in spite of village law which states that persons already familiar with equipment may be waived from taking the village's nonexistent classes.

In America, as well as in the rest of the world, just because we, the people, have both inalienable and lawfully provided rights, there is no assurance that they will be honored. Bullies who trample and disregard the rights of its citizens do not only exist only in other countries, but may be right in your own backyard.

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