Liberty, Freedom & the Public (Access)
G. Emil Perrine
April 2003

The time is ripe in Gainesville to give a voice to all its citizens, not just the wealthy few that can afford state-of-the-art video equipment. The time is ripe in Gainesville to make a proactive change for those that are tired of the one-sided television media. According to the Communications Act administered by the FCC "pursuant to section 611, local franchising authorities (City of Gainesville) may require cable operators (Cox) to set aside channels for Public, Educational and Governmental use (PEG Access channels). Public access channels are available for use by the general public." The intent and purpose of requiring Cox to provide services, equipment and facilities for the community channel is rooted in the idea that all citizens have the right to produce video programming of their choosing, NOT just the those that run the media.

Those that are familiar with Public Access Television know that the programming is a nice slice of the true community. It will give a voice to anyone that wants to be heard. Public Access lets any member of the community produce video programming. It will focus many aspects of community life, from the services and actions of community organizations to the opinions and beliefs of individuals. It is truly egalitarian and for these times, an anomaly. The beauty of this access is that the producers are limited only by their imaginations. Free speech applies. You will no longer be subjected to the musings of the few conglomerates that rule the media world. It is important to remember that Public Access is not about watching TV, it's about making TV. If you have the desire or the inclination you can make a show on the new Public Access channel. It can be a one-time shot or weekly or whatever you want.

Gainesville's franchise agreement with Cox Communications expires in September 2003, which provides an opportunity to install a Public Access channel that thousands of communities around the country have been enjoying for years. Every community has their own contract with a particular cable provider. Gainesville with Alachua County has teamed up to investigate and gather information to build a new franchise agreement. "The last contract was for 10 years, but we're looking at a shorter one this time. I don't want to go over seven years," said Audrey Lewis the city's Revenue Recovery Specialist. "Technology is the main reason to keep the terms shorter. You don't know what's going to happen in the next three or four years," said Chris Eversole, the Communications Coordinator for Alachua County. An eleven member Connected Community Task Force, chaired by Bruce Brashear, has been formed with various subcommittees one of which deals with the PEG Access channels. The Public Access subcommittee consists of Chair, Jim Moffett, Bob Lightner and Harvey Budd. Gainesville has a partial Educational channel and of course it has a state-of-the-art studio setting for its council chambers meetings for the Governmental channel. They have EG channels but conveniently left out the Public.

As an Access producer from Michigan familiar with the wonderful possibilities that this can afford, I proposed to the Public Access subcommittee that they not sit idly with their recommendations and urged them to take the initiative to get a video production facility for the people, ALL the people of Gainesville. Mr. Budd of Budd Communications, which owns Ch.53 (CBS) was alarmingly negative. "Giving that kind of freedom is opening a can of worms. Can we really afford that headache?" wondered Mr. Budd. Rob Brinkman, At-Large Dist. 2 Gainesville City Commission Candidate, was less fearful of the people's ability to express themselves, "I think it's a good idea. You know, Democracy isn't always pretty." I fear that Cox is a powerful adversary. Cable companies in general rue the day that the FCC and the Supreme Court protected the rights of everyone to be able to express their views publicly free from censorship. The City Council must be reminded often and with clarity that we should have Public Access in Gainesville.

Ms. Lewis puts Gainesville's Cox subscribers at around 40,000. In Oceanside CA. a town of 50,000 subscribers for Cox Communications recently negotiated for their PEG channels an initial grant of $1.4 million. The next two years they will receive $1.35 million per and an ongoing fee of approximately $17,500 per month to run the facilities, personnel and maintenance. This is a very winnable cause achieved simply by calling your commissioner and insisting that they give us a Public Access channel or we'll give them the boot. Please come voice your opinion at the next Commission Meeting at City Hall in the Auditorium Monday, Apr. 14 at 1:00pm and the meetings that follow to implore the commissioners to do the right thing.

To repeat: This is at no expense to the taxpayer. Because of many deregulations in the Communications Act in the guise of getting government out of the cable business and in reality restricting the privileges of the average citizen, Cox may impose a PEG levy. Ms. Lewis surmised that it would cost subscribers about 50 cents. The next Cable Advisory workshop Community Services subcommittee is on April 29 at 7:00pm in the Auditorium at City Hall 200 E. University Ave. The workshop will be televised on Cox's Governmental channel (Ch.12). We must make a presence to the powers that be to insure that this happens. The next chance may be in seven years, so, as usual, the time is NOW. The question that keeps running through my head is: Why would the City of Gainesville be against requiring Cox to do this?

G. Emil Perrine can be reached at:

Bruce Brashear- Ph.336.0800
Jim Moffett- Ph.955.6860
Bob Lightner- Ph. 395.5423
Harvey Budd- Ph. 371.7772
City Commission-Ph.334.5015
City Manager-Ph.334.5010

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