Cable providers look to cut payments to governments

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek
portage director of technology devin mackinder 041119_1555015793837.jpg.jpg

**Correction: The original version of this article stated a proposal before the FCC would allow providers to cap franchise fees to local governments at 5 percent. That cap is already in effect. Under the proposal, providers would be able to levy services provided against the fee.

PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s the channel that features your mayor, city commissioner or school board member as the star of the show.

While it may not fit your definition of “must-see TV,” local cable access channels bring local government, where decisions that affect your life are made, into your living room. Fans say the channels provide government transparency, even if they don’t draw much of an audience.

“To the people that are interested in what’s happening in their community and they are involved, to those people, it’s really important,” Portage Director of Technology Devin Mackinder said. “With YouTube, Twitter, so on and so forth, we see a lot of that censorship going on. This is one area where the public can utilize that space and not be censored.”

Like most government public access channels, Portage Cable Access broadcasts a variety of community-oriented programs aimed at keeping taxpayers informed. It’s all run from what appears to be a closet-turned-control room near the city council chambers.

Funding for government cable access channels comes from fees established through franchise agreements, the deals providers make with local governments that allow them to string cable to your neighborhood.

The proposal being considered by the Federal Communications Commission would also allow cable companies to charge for so-called in-kind services against the franchise fee. That means providers would end up paying local governments less cash because they’d be counting things like the value of the channel and bandwidth usage as payment.

Portage is asking fans of its channel to write their congressman to put pressure on the FCC to ditch the idea.

It’s not alone. In December, Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss sent a letter (PDF) to the FCC expressing her concerns. She said public access allows the city reach residents it otherwise wouldn’t.

Mackinder says if the FCC does approves the changes, Portage would likely continue to offer some kind of public access but on a much more limited basis.

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