Our Opinion: Loss of BCTV would affect more than just viewers

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The comment period has ended for a proposed rulemaking that could mean the end of community access stations like Brattleboro Community Television. While the current government shutdown has put a halt to meetings of the Federal Communications Commission, that's only a temporary reprieve from a final decision expected later this year.

The FCC proposal announced this past September would change the way subscriber fees are collected to fund programming and broadcasting services. The proposal would allow cable operators to reclassify certain in-kind services and subtract their monetary value from the 5 percent that cable companies are required to pay to fund public access stations.

In the case of BCTV, that could mean a whopping 85 percent drop in funding for its $300,000 annual budget.

The cable-access television industry has been preparing for funding decreases for the last several years as people turn away from traditional television services, but a sudden loss of this much funding would be devastating, the equivalent of falling off a cliff as opposed to a gradual slope. The changes would likely translate to drastic cuts in funding for local public, educational and government programming. That means no more gavel-to-gavel coverage of select board meetings or community forums on local issues of concern; no more filming of church services and a myriad of other local programming; no more skills training for residents interested in learning the broadcasting trade; and a plethora of other services that BCTV offers to residents of Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford, Jamaica, Newfane, Putney, Townshend and Vernon.

No doubt there are some people in those towns who don't think this issue concerns them. They figure since they don't watch any of BCTV's award-winning programs or use any of its services or equipment, that the FCC rulemaking doesn't affect them. They would be wrong.

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The true value that BCTV provides to the communities it serves goes way beyond the station itself.

Professors at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Chicago have found a direct financial impact of the decline in local newspapers around the country over the last two decades. We surmise that the same conclusions would hold true with the loss of community access stations since both serve to hold their local governments accountable.

Researchers who tracked the decline of local news outlets between 1996 and 2015 say the affected municipalities saw higher costs associated with increased government inefficiencies. What's more, banks take notice. Municipal borrowing costs increase by 5 to 11 basis points in the long run following the demise of a local media outlet, according to the study.

So whether you watch BCTV or not, the loss of the services it provides will have a direct effect on you.

That's why BCTV Executive Director Cor Trowbridge, who doesn't hold out much hope for a favorable FCC decision, is taking her case to the people she serves. She helped organize a community media forum earlier this month and has been reaching out to various civic groups and political bodies in the area. The issue came up at a Brattleboro Select Board meeting last month, during which the board agreed to a request to contribute $5,000 in the next fiscal year's budget. BCTV is asking the other towns it serves to contribute 85 cents per resident.

Whether these towns will be able to any contribute money to BCTV remains to be seen, but even if they do it's unlikely to make up for the anticipated shortfall if the FCC proposal goes through. It's imperative that the residents and the towns that benefit so much from BCTV services, work with the station to secure more funding and ensure its long-term survival.


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