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Legislation in Congress Intends to Kill Public Access—Portland City Council Responds

Three bills currently pending on capitol hill intend to kill community access to television. The "Video Choice Act" of 2005 joins ranks with such sinisterly mis-named legislation as the "Patriot Act" of 2001 & the "Clear Skies Initiative" of 2005. Do not be deceived: if passed, Americans will lose freedom of speech on cable tv, and the door will open for other utility companies to STOP paying local municipalities for use of public rights of way.

At a time when freedoms have eroded dangerously close to (or, some would argue, beyond) the scenario painted in 1984, one of the last bastions of free speech?cable access television?is now in the sniper scope of the Ministry of Information. Three bills in Congress intend to remove laws that allow local governments to collect small franchise fees for use of public space and rights of way by video service providers, traditionally cable companies. This use of public space includes tearing up streets and erecting structures to route wires into homes and businesses delivering their service. More importantly, franchise fees are the sole compensation we, the public, receive for the wholesale give away by our government to corporations of public domain?in this case, the airwaves and cable channels. Often, this is forgotten: we, the people, own the airwaves.

And we should continue to have free, open access to these channels of information.

The Portland City Council has issued the following resolution in response to this dire legislation, to be voted on November 9th, 9:30 am, at City Hall (1221 SW Fourth Ave). If ever you cared about freedom of speech, if ever you appreciated this vital tool for public discourse and social change (which will only become more important in the coming years) show up at City Hall, next Wednesday, for public testimony.

RESOLUTION

Urge Congress to reject legislation unduly restricting local governments in managing public rights of way or granting franchises to video providers, and to approve legislation preserving local government options in providing communications services.

WHEREAS, the City supports competitive entry into the video market; and

WHEREAS, the City supports universal, affordable broadband Internet access; and

WHEREAS, City participation in the provision of broadband communications services may be necessary to achieve universal, affordable broadband Internet access; and

WHEREAS, the City supports vibrant community media through public, educational and government (PEG) access which uses capacity and equipment provided for through video franchises; and

WHEREAS, the City supports community Institutional Networks that provide high bandwidth at low cost to schools, libraries and local governments; and

WHEREAS, City management of the public rights of way and City zoning requirements for wireless facilities ensure that deployment of telecommunications and video equipment and facilities respects public safety, pedestrian and vehicular traffic mobility, and sensitive environmental, historical and cultural resources; and

WHEREAS, the City should be fairly compensated for use of the public rights of way; and

WHEREAS, the City supports build-out requirements for video service providers in order to prevent providers from discriminating based on the wealth of local neighborhoods; and

WHEREAS, Congress is currently considering legislation that would drastically limit the important local role in the formulation and implementation of telecommunications and video policy.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Portland City Council affirms the important role of local government in encouraging competition among telecommunications and video providers, managing the public rights of way, implementing local zoning policies, providing local customer service enforcement, enforcing build-out requirements and ensuring vibrant community media; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Portland City Council finds that preserving the option of municipal participation in the provision of broadband communications services is necessary to promote universal, affordable broadband Internet access; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Portland City Council opposes any legislation preventing local government from franchising video providers who use the public rights of way, paying franchise fees, and providing support for PEG access and Institutional Networks; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Council Clerk shall cause a copy of this Resolution to be sent to all members of the Oregon Congressional Delegation.

Adopted by the Council:
Commissioner Dan Saltzman
Prepared by: David Olson/Mary Beth Henry
October 27, 2005

For more information on this legislation and what you can do to demonstrate support of community-based media, visit Portland Community Media, or the Alliance for Community Media.

If not you, who?
If not now, when?

homepage: homepage: http://www.pcmtv.org
phone: phone: 503.288.1515