Tom Still published a piece Tuesday in WisOpinion arguing against continuing to fund local access TV channels, and cited the success of the creators of Chad Vader, Madison's Aaron Yonda and Matt Sloan of Blame Society Productions, as justification for his position against local cable franchises, which just happens to exactly mirror at&t's legislative efforts. Yonda and Sloan have enjoyed so much local (Isthmus, Cap Times) and national press (Good Morning America, VH1) that they hardly need any little additional hype from WaxingAmerica.
Still, who is the head of the Wisconsin Technology Council, wrote:
The Legislature is considering a proposal to allow AT&T, the world’s largest telecommunications company, to enter the subscription television market, improve its Internet services and provide computer-linked telephone service. That would essentially set up competition between AT&T and cable companies, the largest of which in Wisconsin are Time Warner Cable and Charter.
...But opening up the market won’t be that simple. Wisconsin municipalities, which have collected fees from cable companies for years, want to make sure they secure a similar arrangement with AT&T. Those same municipalities want AT&T to pony up money to support local public, education and government television channels – collectively known as “local access” channels.
That brings us back to Chad Vader and YouTube, which may be the public access channel of the 21st century. At a time when a couple of filmmakers in Madison can create a series that gets 7 million hits on the Internet, is it really necessary to subsidize public access television channels?
...Granted, local access television can be a vital part of community democracy, but it’s no longer the only game in town. The Internet, with blogs, podcasts, YouTube and more, is changing that landscape a lot faster than local regulators can regulate.
As members of the Legislature consider state “video franchising,” they should keep the big picture in mind. The Internet is changing the telecom world. Governments need to create regulatory frameworks that anticipate change; that expect new technologies. They should not be clinging to regulatory frameworks that lock them into a specific technology, because such an approach will ultimately impede progress.
“Chad Vader” may be Darth’s incompetent brother, but he’s also a symbol of a new video world.
As far as I knew, those "Chad Vader guys" started on local access, and still have a show. So I asked them what they thought of Still's argument.
Sloan wrote me:
To take the success of two internet entrepreneurs and use that to make a case for gutting funding for public access stations is pretty shortsighted and frankly, dumb. (emphasis Waxing America) Public access stations strengthen communities and provide amateurs with the resources and the basic skills to learn film and television production, neither of which has anything to do with the Internet. You can't be a successful filmmaker without networking and interacting with real live people and that is something that sitting in front of a web cam will never provide. The Internet revolution is amazing and it will change the world, but public access stations are still crucial in giving the community the resources to make the most of that revolution.
I think public access stations are more important than ever before--because of the internet.
Public access is what made Chad Vader possible. I never would have started making videos if I hadn't had a public access station in Eau Claire, WI where I could get equipment, receive instruction on how to use it, and make connections and collaborate with other like-minded individuals. In fact if I hadn't been able to make my public access show I probably never would've teamed up with Matt in 2001 because he wouldn't have seen the show and met with me about collaborating. I did all my videos, including early internet videos, through public access in Eau Claire (1993-1996) and in Madison (1996-2004). In 2004, I started to be able to afford most of my own equipment because of money I'd saved up.
I'd say that Youtube, rather than being a replacement to Public Access, is made possible by Public Access stations around the country that offer a place for struggling video-makers to get a start and make videos in the first place, especially now that the internet has made video-making even more popular. ... I know for sure if funding had been pulled from our public access station at any point in my video making career Chad Vader would never have existed. (emphasis WaxingAmerica)
So, in fact, Still's "symbol of the new video world" wouldn't ever have existed without local cable access. Chad Vader is a good argument for the exact opposite of at&t's position that "the Internet makes local access unnecessary." (Facts matter, Tom; gotta check 'em.)
Still also wrote:
...In Gainesville, Fla., late last year, both the Gainesville City Commission and the Alachua County Commissioners declined to create a local access channel because they didn’t think it was needed. They cited the growth of the Internet and its rapidly expanding array of video choices.
In fact, the City of Gainesville has had an active government access channel for many years, and an active educational access channel as well. The City and County did decide last year against creating a local public access channel, but that would have been Gainesville's third access channel. They are now considering creating a third access channel for the County to program. That's hardly "declined to create
a local access channel because they didn’t think it was needed." (Context matters too, Tom. Gotta provide it, otherwise you're distorting the facts.)
These are the kind of factually-light arguments and distortions that are behind at&t's efforts to establish "less burdensome" control of video services using public rights-of-way. Local access channels provide real value to their communities, and, in fact, "can be a vital part of community democracy," whether it's providing coverage of City Council and school board meetings, or the high school basketball games, or locally-grown comedy. And, as the real story of Chad Vader proves, they are also nice little economic and professional development organizations. Let's not brush them aside just to make things a little cheaper and easier for at&t, which is, as Tom Still accurately states, "the world’s largest telecommunications company."
More to come as at&t prepares a bill for its friends in the legislature to introduce and ram through.
- Barry Orton