Public access television has been one of the most exciting and controversial developments in the intersection between media and democracy within the past several decades. Beginning in the 1970s, cable systems began to offer access channels to the public, so that groups and individuals could make programs for members of their own communities. Access systems began to proliferate and access programming that is now being cablecast regularly in such places as New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Madison, Urbana, Austin, Greensboro, and perhaps as many as 4,000 other towns or regions of the country.
When cable television was widely introduced in the early 1970s, the Federal Communications Commission mandated that "beginning in 1972, new cable systems (and after 1977, all cable systems) in the 100 largest television markets be required to provide channels for government, for educational purposes, and most importantly, for public access. " This mandate suggested that cable systems should make available three public access channels to be used for state and local government, education, and community public access use. "Public access" was construed to mean that the cable company should make available equipment and air time so that literally anybody could make noncommercial use of the access channel, and say and do anything that they wished, on a first-come, first-served basis, subject only to obscenity and libel laws. The result was an entirely different sort of programming, reflecting the interests of groups and individuals usually excluded from mainstream television.
The rationale for public access television was that, as mandated by the Federal Connnunications Act of 1934, the airwaves belong to the people, that in a democratic society it is useful to multiply public participation in political discussion, and that mainstream television severely limited the range of views and opinion. Public access television, then, would open television to the public; it would make