Originally published in the Chicago Tribune
The Tribune's May 1 editorial "Bring on cable competition" correctly points out that protection of public access channels is achievable in statewide legislation. Unfortunately that has not been true in the majority of the states where AT&T-backed legislation has passed to date.
As originally written, House Bill 1500 harms funding, reception quality and the potential for growth of PEG (public, educational, governmental) channels. Negotiations are under way to rectify those problems and assure that no state bill undermines the public's right to participate in the most powerful, most pervasive media of our time.
Throughout Illinois, PEG channels provide programming in health, education, arts, youth and politics that are not available on network stations. In Chicago, thousands of local residents and groups use CAN TV's local, non-commercial channels to educate about issues like gun violence, HIV/AIDS prevention and job training opportunities. CAN TV cameras capture civic events, arts performances and public forums throughout the city.
At a time when less then one-half of 1 percent of programming on commercial stations is local public affairs, PEG channels throughout the state are 100 percent committed to the local community, carrying government meetings, educational tele-courses and high school sports.
Illinois legislators have an opportunity to set the standard for the nation in statewide legislation. That will only happen if a concerted effort is made to fully protect important public-interest benefits such as PEG channels in the future.
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