JANUARY 22, 2020 – As advocates for community media across Massachusetts, MassAccess is proud to announce its support for the bill known as the Protecting Community Television Act, currently being sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Anne Eshoo (D-CA).

This important legislation corrects what we see as an erroneous ruling made last year at the Federal Communications Commission relative to cable franchise fees. The FCC’s 3-2 decision in August created a method for cable operators to reduce their required payments to municipalities that were agreed to as part of cable franchise licenses. Under the FCC’s new interpretation of the Cable Act, which broke with decades of precedent, cable providers are now allowed to deduct so-called “in-kind contributions” from their monetary obligations.

The Protecting Community Television Act will override that decision with just a few words. It makes clear that the federal 5% cap on franchise fees is to include only monetary obligations set out in cable license agreements. It will exclude any non- monetary terms of an agreement from being calculated into that 5% cap.

“The FCC’s action was a gift to the cable industry,” said David Gauthier, President of MassAccess. “It essentially overrode those local negotiations and stepped on the spirit in which they were agreed to. This bill would reestablish the protocol that had been agreed to for decades prior.”

According to the latest count by the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications, there are more than 400 active cable licenses across Massachusetts. The vast majority of those are held by 4 companies: Comcast, Verizon, Charter and RCN. Through those licenses, and protected under federal law, municipalities can require up to 5% of cable revenue to be returned to a community in order to support local programming. Those licenses can often also have non-monetary obligations like free cable in schools or a wired infrastructure for in-town communication.

“While in-kind deductions have yet to hit municipal payments in Massachusetts, this issue looms large over our industry,” said Gauthier. “Our members are left to guess when deductions will come and how much they’ll be, with few options to challenge those decisions made by cable companies. Our hope is that this bill simply re-establishes the long precedent that was interrupted last year by the FCC’s order.”

David Gauthier, President, MassAccess (davidg@wincam.org)
Shaun Neville, Vice President, MassAccess (shaun@wctv.org)

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