Public access, educational and governmental television, or PEG stations, are local TV channels that provide programming as diverse as the communities they’re based in. Public access TV plays a vital role in forging community identity. Offerings range from local music videos to city council meetings to community sporting events, and a whole lot in between.
In 1971, filmmaker George Stoney — known as the “father of public access” — founded the Alternate Media Center, which provided tools and training for people interested in creating public access programming. In 1972, Stoney was instrumental in getting the Federal Communications Commission to mandate that cable operators provide modest funding for public access equipment, training and airtime.
The 1984 Cable Franchise Policy and Communications Act allowed local governments to require cable companies to set aside channels for PEG programming. It also barred cable operators from exercising editorial control over such programming.
Currently more than 1,700 communities around the country have public access stations. There are more than a million public access producers nationwide.
Many public access stations are transforming into media and technology centers. They have expanded their community outreach, teaching media literacy and computer skills and helping outside organizations use audiovisual components in their programming.
Public access centers have faced a number of challenges in recent years. Phone and cable companies are pushing for laws that absolve them of their public interest obligations. Budget cuts have also impacted public access centers, which in some cases have ceased operations.
Free Press supports community TV and believes it provides an important platform for civic discussion and debate.