August 1st, SMC preempted our regularly scheduled programming to carry the live proceedings of the FCC. On the docket was a ruling as to whether the value of non-financial contributions by cable carriers to municipalities as parts of the terms to negotiated Local Franchise Agreements (LFA’s) could be counted both as an offset to cash payment as well as counted toward the 5% revenue cap that cable providers contribute for use of public rights of way for building out their telecom infrastructure. As expected, despite rigorous objections from access media centers, municipal governments, school systems, and fire and police departments and thousands of statements filed on behalf of those entities and their supporters, the vote carried 3 – 2 along party lines.
Commissioner Rosenworcel cited in her dissent that the anti PEG channel motivations the FCC was referring to …”they insist that funding these local stations and related efforts damages the ability of our nation’s broadband providers to extend their networks to communities without high-speed service. But comb through the text of this decision. You will not find a single commitment made to providing more broadband service in remote communities. There is no enforceable obligation to expand broadband capacity. There is no agreement that any savings from today’s action is pushed into new network deployment. I fear this absence speaks volumes.” (For full statement see https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DOC-358839A5.pdf)
Commissioner Geoffrey Starks cited in his dissent that, “I dissent from today’s item because it threatens the ability of states and municipalities to manage their local affairs through an improper reading of the statute…Thousands of federal, state, and local leaders have submitted substantive comments in our docket, pointing out how our action today will frustrate other important goals of the statute, and target certain terms negotiated into franchise agreements that are of great importance to local communities.2 From free or discounted services to schools or government buildings, to institutional networks, or I-Nets, which are viewed as critical infrastructure by many cities and relied upon to support government functions and public safety communications, much is at stake.” (For full statement see https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DOC-358839A6.pdf)
First and foremost, I want to iterate that this move by the FCC, while it does have significant repercussions to community media centers (including SMC) as well as to municipal autonomy (including the city of Somerville). This is not an immediate term issue. SMC is doing business as usual for 2019. Similarly our outlook for 2020 is again to be doing business as usual. However, this is not to say that we are idly sitting by. The Alliance for Community Media (ACM) of which SMC is a member, has been preparing to challenge this FCC ruling. The City of Somerville as an entity, the US Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) among others, are all taking steps to address what by many is viewed as the FCC’s overstepping of its authority. Mass Access (of which SMC is also a member) is looking at introducing state legislation that could counter the erosion of funding from LFA’s. In short, no one is taking this sitting down. This is the beginning of the process for challenging the FCC in court. This will be a protracted process.
Many of you have already been asking what specifically you can do help. And for the immediate future, we ask that you remain alert and ready. Because there will be a time when our members and supporters will be called upon to act–with a specificity and timeliness that will be tantamount to succeeding. In the meantime, be sure to exercise your ability to make independent media. Show your support of SMC activities – we will be doing some fundraising events in the coming months (and welcome your financial, content, and volunteer support). SMC will continue to keep everyone posted on where things stand (locally and nationally). We appreciate your support.