Today, the City is announcing a proposal to fund Educational and Government television services using the City’s general budget going forward, rather than using franchise fees, and to allot all of the annual 5% franchise fees, rather than one-third of them, to Public Access. This will provide more durable financial support for all PEG services and more funding for the Somerville Media Center.
The proposed shift will allot the full 5% franchise fees paid by Comcast and Astound (formerly RCN) to Public Access services, which the City contracts with the independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit Somerville Media Center to provide. It will also increase the Media Center’s share of equipment funding from one-third to one-half of equipment funds received on top of the franchise fee.
Subject to City Council approval of annual budgets for GovTV and EdTV services, the funding shift is projected to provide the Somerville Media Center with more than $1 million in additional funding over the next three years, bringing their total cable-provider funded payments to a projected $2.1 million for the years 2023 to 2025. As the City’s designated public access provider, the Media Center is uniquely eligible to benefit from this funding source due to the provisions within the federal Cable Communications Policy Act. The proposed changes will be memorialized in the Media Center’s 3-yearly grant agreement with the City.
“All three access TV providers offer key services and equitable information access to our community. The community relies on these services. They rely on the alternative access to City and Council meetings, events, information, and emergency alerts provided by GovTV government access. They rely on the sports, event, and learning programming produced by EdTV government access. They rely on the rich community programming, youth programs, and skills training offered by Somerville Media Center as part of public access. This solution will help keep these offerings sustainable amid a changing media landscape,” said Mayor Ballantyne.
“We’re very happy to talk about this long-term funding for the media center,” said Somerville Media Center Executive Director Kat Powers. “We’re turning 40 in March. We’re not there yet, but this is a great first step to making sure we have a secure next four decades.”
The Media Center is also facing an additional burden due to damage to their current location at 90-92 Union Square, a City-owned building where they have operated for decades. After significant water intrusion in 2019, it was determined the building needs significant repair and renovation.
“I’d much prefer that the 90-92 Union Square Building was not in need of major repair. But as we navigate this challenge alongside the Media Center, it is my hope that this additional support will help seed their fundraising for resources to not just survive a move to a new space in Somerville, but to build something even better,” said Mayor Ballantyne. “We have likewise been working to help ensure that the building’s other tenant, the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers, secures a new Somerville home where they can continue to provide their vital services to our community.”
“We’re really delighted to work with the city to preserve the programs of the Somerville Media Center,” said SMC board president Jesse Buckley. “I want to take a moment to thank the board members, artists and producers of SMC whose vocal support helped us get to this point. We’re very appreciative to the Mayor for these continuing talks.”