Letter to Mendocino’s Ad Hoc Committee on Public Access

I am the Secretary for Cache Creek Performance, a non-profit created by some former TV8 volunteers.  The purpose of Cache Creek Performance is to create a structure to contract for non-traditional public and private venues. Our focus area is Lake County and Ukiah Valley. I believe the Board of Supervisors may be interested in our idea for a relevant internet platform for all Mendo-Lake community media.

 Twenty years ago, cable TV was still in it’s prime. For rural California, it seemed that almost every home was hooked into cable TV. 

Behind the scenes, many government and volunteer hours were spent obtaining contracts for public access funding, putting broadcast studios in place, and keeping the channels operational.  Having a public access channel was the only community controlled media.  It was a boon for local businesses and community groups, while allowing local governments to educate and engage their citizens. It was the only public platform for local performers, producers and videographers. 

 But now, many customers are switching from cable to satellite for their television viewing.  Other customers are giving up their television sets altogether, using the internet to provide them with both information and entertainment. The internet doesn’t require people to schedule their lives around someone else’s schedule. We enjoy an explosion of choices that we can use at our convenience.

Local businesses, organizations and governments are less dependent on Public Access, preferring to rely on their websites to get their information out.   Budgets are tightening, and the cost of running brick and mortar operations keeps rising.   And with the loss of cable customers, Public Access viewership is dropping.   Now would seem like a good time to say ‘good-bye’ to Public Access. 

 But the internet has not been able to fully replace public access. There is no one place on the internet where someone can learn about the full range of local culture, local issues, and local activities.  Without some kind of filter, the community gets lost in the cyberspace noise.  And it is that very cyber roar that puts our community identities at risk. 

  Perhaps as important as our community identity, is our right to a public forum.  Unlike satellite TV and internet, Public Access holds a special place as a legal “designated public forum.”  It cannot be overridden by commercial or political considerations.  And, since the enactment of DIVCA, we can be pretty sure that if we allow these unique Public Access forums to fall off of our radar, we can never get them back.

 How do we keep these assets alive in this changing climate?  First, we need to rethink the type of local government contributions that would best support the transition of our public access channels to the internet.  Second, we need to work with the new technology. 

 Viable public access requires: a place for the live cable jack (ensuring a legal free speech entity for all the public); protected storage for valuable equipment; and an inclusion under the County insurance umbrella.  This way, the County could support the transformation of a vital resource by replacing PEG line items with in-kind support.  Other examples are increased municipal wi-fi locations (remember, the shift to more internet incorporation) and better access to public spaces for “on-the-fly” shooting spaces as well.  But no scary budget item for a declining technology.

 Technically, the cable links need to be nodes on an internet platform, which is essentially a beefed up blog site. WordPress Premium at $8.25 per month should be adequate. The $5 per month Vimeo option seems to be working well as the preferred video upload site for Willits. Notice I said links, plural. Each access channel and community radio in the region would need to have their own pages on the platform for basic info and links which they would administer themselves. Live streaming and podcasts should be platform centered. There are plans available for under $20 per month.

Cache Creek Performance would like to help create a relevant internet platform, including cable public access, for all Mendo-Lake community media.

 

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