Current Funding Sources, Techniques, and Problems
Since its inception in the late 1960s, public access television has been funded through various means. The Junior Chamber of Commerce administered the first public access television center in Dale City, Virginia, with the channel provided by the cable company. As noted in Chapter 1, this public access television experiment ended due to lack of adequate funding and equipment. This common shortfall has had the effect of destabilizing the movement for public access television in many cities across the nation.
The primary sources of funding for public access television generally include franchise fees, grants from the cable company, grants from the local government, or any combination of these. The method of funding is determined by the franchise agreement that the local government negotiates with the cable company. Private donations from individuals, foundations, and corporations generally comprise a very small part of the income for most public access television organizations.
Currently, there are 11,800 cable systems operating in 34,000 communities in the United States. Almost 65 million households subscribe to cable, which reaches an estimated 165 million people, or 65 percent of the television households in the United States. The 1984 Cable Communication Policy Act allows each local governmental entity to award a franchise agreement to the cable company providing service in its area. Section 541 of the Communications Act allows a franchise fee of up to 5 percent of the cable company's gross revenues to be paid to the local government as a fee for using the public rights-of-way to lay cable. 1