Help Save The Peoples Channel and Local Community Media

Good evening to you all. This is Chad A. Johnston, director of The Peoples Channel, Chapel Hill and Orange CountyÂ’s non-profit public access television station. My brain is a little fuzzy due to the work load over here, so I apologize if I ramble on. We face very troubling times in the telecommunications world right now, and without community input and support, we could loose valuable community resources.

Telephone companies want to enter into the television business, just like cable companies have entered into the telephone business. Phone companies want to offer services which will look just like cable television, and will use public roads or the public right of way (PROW) to deliver these services. Currently, cable companies, which use the PROW to distribute their networks, are required to make an agreement with each municipality and pay “rent” for using this public space. In that rental agreement, technically called a franchise agreement, municipalities can ask for channel space for public, educational and government access. Here in Chapel Hill we’ve have channel 4, 8, and 18. Municipalities also receive money for use of that space and to support the local channels.

Telephone companies have been lobbying very hard to avoid these local franchise agreements; they call it a “barrier to entry.” Though very few municipalities have actually been approached by a new video service provider, Verizon/AT&T and SBC claim that it is too difficult for them to work with local municipalities and that municipalities have too much power. They would rather have a federal or a state franchise agreement to speed their entrance into the market. I suppose this might be alright, however there are a handful of public service obligations that they would love to avoid.

Enjoy watching a County Commissioners or Town meeting on TV?
Well, most of the proposed federal and state legislation does not include channels for government meetings, or the holiday parade, or Phillips Middle School football games, and if they do provide channel capacity, they donÂ’t provide mechanisms for funding or for the use of the PROW.

Who do you call if you have a cable complaint? You call your local municipality and speak to the cable company liaison.
Well, not under the phone companyÂ’s model. You would have to call the FCC or your state Public Utility Commission. Charlotte receives nearly 3,000 cable complaints a monthÂ…IÂ’m pretty sure our state PUC doesnÂ’t have the resources to respond to that many citizens.

At least the phone companies will provide competition and offer services to the whole municipality. Right?
Actually, telephone companies have no interest in “build out” requirements. In fact the state legislation that passed in Texas has no requirements to offer services to all citizens, letting the phone companies redline neighborhoods. Language used by AT&T internally stated that they would first offer service only to those “high value” neighborhoods, and rates in Texas have actually risen since the entrant of a new provider.

These are just a couple of the issuesÂ…and believe me, it only gets worse.
Currently, many of the federal bills are stalled because of the election year. Because of this, phone companies are hitting the state level, and their coming to NC.

Please join members of SPAT (Save Public Access Television), The Alliance for Community Media, and local community media experts at a workshop and public forum on Saturday, March 25, 10-12 noon at ERUUF (Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship) at 4907 Garrett Rd, Durham to discuss the future of public, educational, and governmental (PEG) access. Join us to learn more about these issues and to discuss what can be done to protect these resources at the local and Federal level.

If you cannot make it to the forum, please come and let your voice be heard at the state legislature. The Revenue Laws Committee, ( a non standing committee of the NC legislature, was charged with looking into state video franchising. If legislation is introduced like that in Texas or South Carolina it could potentially cut channel capacity and/or funding for local Public, Educational, and Governmental access (PEG) centers like The Peoples Channel, UNC Student Television and Raleigh Television Network. The committee has heard from many interests in the telecommunications industry, but they haven't yet heard from the people that use and value these PEG centers.

Please join SPAT, the Alliance for Community Media, NC League of Municipalities, local non-profit organizations and concerned citizens April 7th at 10am and let the legislature know that you care about these resources. We have been told that if we don't pack this room, we may not have a chance. April 7th, North Carolina General Assembly, Legislative Building, 16 West Jones Street, Raleigh, NC 27601 at 10am. We are currently organizing car pools from The Peoples Channel. If you need a ride, have a large vehicle and can help transport people or have any further questions, please go to or contact Chad Johnston via email at or 919.960.0088.

If you cannot make it to either meeting, we would love it if you could write a letter about your experience with TPC or your local PEG center. This is especially true if you work for a community group or non-profit that has benefited from TPC's services. I will submit these letters with my written testimony and will really help with our campaign.

Thank you for reading through this long postÂ…and please help us preserve local control, equal access and local community media.

Warm regards,

Chad Johnston



I got a couple offline comments, and thought I would post some links to recent media articles and web sites about these issues. I would love to spend some time re-working this post, but frankly, I don't have the time this week. Thank you for understanding.
Chad Johnston
The Peoples Channel

I get my cable service through the Carrboro franchise, so I don't see the People's Channel. But I do get the government access channel and would feel cut off without it. Anyone who values either of these public access channels, needs to take notice. The end is drawing nearer:



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