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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Be seein' ya, or not

So long, public access:

But in Los Angeles and across California that forum began crumbling last week, a development that advocates say will strip ordinary citizens of a valuable 1st Amendment platform.

A provision of a law passed by the Legislature in 2006, which took effect Thursday, allows cable television providers the option of dropping their long-standing obligation of providing free studios, equipment and training to the public. In return, providers must pay a substantial annual fee and continue to provide a minimal number of public education and government channels.

[. . .]

Twenty other states, including Texas, Nevada, Florida, Illinois and Michigan, have enacted legislation similar to California's Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act, or DIVCA, according to the nonprofit Alliance for Community Media. In several of those states, the loss of production studios was bitterly fought by opposition groups to little avail.

But the waning of public access programming in California would carry special significance for the nation, said Ron Cooper, a public access advocate and regional treasurer of the Alliance for Community Media in Sacramento.

"The rest of the country is watching," Cooper said. "And not because it's a good example -- quite the opposite."

If public access does disappear, it will be a shame in a way. Where else are you going to see such quirky "so bad it's actually entertaining" fare? But the 1st Amendment protects the right to speak -- it doesn't guarantee a platform. Providing public access was the legal bribe cable companies paid for the exclusive franchises they said they needed as an inducement to invest millions upfront for infrastructure. Now, there is competition for cable from all directions, and people have other plenty of other outlets via the Web through which to express themselves. Cable access was an interesting idea, but its time has passed.