Friday, February 13, 2009

DIVCA’s Chickens Come Home to Roost

I keep asking myself when will I stop being surprised, shocked and saddened by attacks on Public access television? I think the answer is never.

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in Fresno, California, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I spent my disco years running up to San Francisco. During college, San Francisco was my second home; I love everything about the City. From the St. Francis hotel elevator to Broadway barkers to breakfast in Chinatown. San Francisco is so much more button-down than LA and yet even more free wheeling when it comes to trends and new ideas. How many social justice marches have I attended in San Francisco?

Yet, without embarrassment or shame, San Francisco is cutting Access San Francisco’s budget by $500,000. In the RFP that went out for bid for an organization that would manage Public access television, there it was, a budget of $120,000. I am not sure how anyone could run anything in San Francisco on a budget of $120,000, much less a television station whose mission is to train residents how to produce community programming.

It comes back to the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act (DIVCA) of 2006. Cable funding for Public access in San Francisco ceased on January 1, 2009. Access San Francisco will be closing its doors on June 30, 2009 unless something changes.

I estimate that the City receives $12 million per year in franchise fees, based upon a rough calculation of subscribers, it may be more, it may be less, but I’m probably in the ball park. And I fully sympathize that these are desperate financial times, but they can’t set aside 10% to 15% of those franchise fees for Public access? Especially in a City with such a vibrant and diverse population, a population sorely underserved by commercial media.

All of this is especially bizarre given that on January 6, 2009 Mayor Gavin Newsom issued a proclamation for San Francisco Community Television Corporation Day, to honor Access San Francisco’s 20 years of service to the City. Was that an “I love you, now go away” gesture?

I’m never sure what good it does to have non-residents weigh in on these topics. But Access San Francisco has posted contact information for the city council and mayor’s office at . It is important that the City be petitioned to adequately fund public access.

And this is just the beginning of the fallout of DIVCA for access in California. We have ex-Speaker of the Assembly, Fabian Nunez, to thank for that peccadillo. He’s now at Mercury Public Affairs, working his little heart out on getting more crappy legislation passed no doubt.

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Anonymous said...

Of course you're quite right on DIVCA. Nothing more than a shameless corporate welfare bill for AT&T.

But SF Access' problems are also rooted in the perpetual reluctance or refusal of municipalities to support community access TV. As you point out, the city receives $12 million in franchise fees, yet SF Access is going out of business in a few months.

In short municipalities are as substantial an impediment to community TV as any corporation. As long as access people or the ACM blindly follow NLC or NATOA, we're doomed. The interests of municipalities and community television stations are not the same thing.

Anonymous said...

The SF Franchise Fee is about $8 million. Since the 1980's the City has set aside .2% of the 5% for PEG. Today that's $360,000 which is divided three ways between the PEG channels, thus, the $120,000 for public access. The rest goes into the General Fund. The $120,000 is about what it costs to pay the bills for the building. There is no staff at that level.

Millions are coming for capital, but only $120,000 for ops. That's why Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has introduced a resolution urging the SF Congressional and State Legislative delegations to reform PEG funding. That reso is directed at Pelosi, Feinstein and Boxer. It will be heard in a SF Committee on Monday, Feb. 23 and by the Full Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, March 3rd. This is the first time a California city has taken the initiative to fight back at DIVCA. All the fun facts and info are available at Join the SOS Coalition!