A mostly overlooked and undiscussed byproduct of the state taking over control of cable TV:
Every Monday evening for more than a decade in Portage, Indiana, Gordon Bloyer stirred up trouble. The middle-aged, mustachioed Bloyer used his 6:30 p.m. television talk show to lambast elected officials in the city of 35,000 on the shore of Lake Michigan. Not only were Portage politicians powerless to cancel the Gordon Bloyer Show — although at times they tried — they also were, in a sense, subsidizing Bloyer's attacks on them: His show appeared on public access television. "People would get all upset," Bloyer says, sounding satisfied. "So I figured that's good."
Now, Bloyer is up against a foe he can't beat. AT&T, looking for a fast track into the TV business, recently persuaded the Indiana legislature to move most aspects of cable regulation from the local level to the state level. A little-noticed byproduct of the new law is that independent local voices such as Bloyer's are being squeezed off the air. In fact, late last year many public access channels in northwest Indiana went dark.
Public access TV now faces a more uncertain future than at any time since its inception in the 1970s. In the past three years, some 20 states have, like Indiana, switched to statewide franchises for cable TV. In the process, public, educational and governmental channels — the so-called "PEGs" — are getting hammered. Many are losing funding or studio space, and in a few places PEGs are being shut down altogether. The wild sandbox that gave political gadflies, aerobics instructors, sex therapists and many others a place to hone their video skills, while entertaining those who dared to watch, may never be the same.
Public access TV is one of those strange creations that can happen only when a utility becomes a regulated monopoly. Back when cable was the only game in town, operators convinced local governments that no one would invest in the needed infrastructure without getting exclusive franchises. Cable companies got the franchises, but in return had to provide the local-programming channels.
Cable is not the only option anymore, so the argument for those exclusive franchises doesn't really fly. And, as the article notes, public access may have outlived its usefulness. Those who feel they are "without voice" in the media now have the Internet and YouTube to play with. What's lost is the same thing that's lost when people get their news online instead of from a dead-tree newspaper -- local flavor. If you've ever watched an evening of local access, you got a sense of Fort Wayne quirkiness. This wasn't just some bored kid in a bedroom in Minneapolis or Fort Wortth, but our very own kook.