By Jim Condos
For decades, Vermont’s Community Media Centers have provided our residents direct access to each other, our government and our community events. Now, more than ever, we need a strong network of public, educational and government (“PEG TV”) stations and their Community Media Centers to provide these important services that keep our civic engagement strong.
I have been a longtime advocate for government transparency. The public’s right to know is critical to a democracy where we can audit our local, state, and federal government agencies, and ultimately hold them accountable. My days on the South Burlington City Council taught me first-hand the important role PEG TV plays in keeping our residents informed and engaged.
Historically, PEG TV was funded mainly through fees paid by the cable industry, as part of the deal that we all made with cable providers to use our common infrastructure. In recent months, the Federal Communications Commission has changed some of their rules so that cable providers can choose to contribute less to community media centers. At the same time, “cord cutting” means that less overall funding will be available from this source over time.
Last year, the State of Vermont rightly recognized the importance of our Community Media Centers by creating a summer study committee to look at how we can ensure their vitality if their primary funding source is reduced. The study committee found that the answer to that question is complex because of federal preemption, lawsuits, and overlapping legal jurisdictions.
This year, the committee has put forward a bill to allow the state to hire experts who understand the complexity of the issues and make some recommendations about how to support and preserve our PEG TV stations for Vermonters.
I support this bill (S.318/H.744) and the accompanying funding for the expert study it allows. Our community media centers provide access to our local and state government processes, allow us to learn from each other, and allow families across Vermont to enjoy access to a variety of community events that they might not be able to attend in person.
As a long-time proponent of the public’s right to know, I appreciate the transparency and accessibility that PEG TV provides. Not everyone can go to every meeting or fully understand the context of board discussions through their minutes.
Our community media centers provide a valuable window into state and local government. I remember when PEG TV began back in the early 1990s, and a member of our city council was opposed because our citizens might actually know what we were doing at our meetings. That is exactly the point!
In addition to making valuable information accessible for Vermonters, they provide 200 jobs across the state. We need to ensure that the 25 Community Media Centers in Vermont are well supported and strong for the long term. Their services are crucial so that we can all be more civically engaged.
I hope the Vermont Legislature will support the PEG TV bill and provide this needed small investment, to ensure we can move forward with the study and maintain this valuable public service.
Jim Condos is the Vermont secretary of state.