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Policy Paper

Full Spectrum Community Media

Expanding Public Access to Communications Infrastructure
February 9, 2011 |
Image Credit: clix (stock.xchng)
Image Credit: clix (stock.xchng)

This paper, developed by the Open Technology Initiative of the New America Foundation at the request of the Alliance for Community Media (ACM), offers a policy framework that responds to the situation ACM finds itself thrust into and recommends actions to secure the future of community media.

Formed as a network of producers for local cable channels, ACM has a legacy of successful advocacy for policy reforms, policies that secured public access to cable television infrastructure and public benefit from cable companies' use of public property. Today, as the divisions between different media fade, a focus on cable is not enough; embracing a multi-platform approach, is a strategic necessity for long-term survival.  The battle for public access is now one that needs to be fought across all types of communications infrastructure.

Many ACM members have embraced additional platforms for media distribution, from low power radio to the Internet and other platforms. As the examples in this paper show, this expansion is a major source of energy, innovation and leadership for ACM. It provides the public access community with new tools and connects producers to new audiences.

We need to adapt the mission for community media. The key to sustaining a community media center in the future will be through its role in the provision of local broadband networks, operation of radio broadcast licenses as well as other communications infrastructure. While in the near term, ACM's policy agenda will sensibly remain focused on cable infrastructure, it must immediately begin applying its decades of experience in public access to the Internet. It should also seek to expand the definition of “public access” so that it refers not only to a type of content that is locally-produced and reflects the diversity of a community, but also to a type of communications infrastructure that is governed by the people who use it. The policies outlined in this paper are essential to making public access infrastructure a reality.

Community media's transition to a multi-platform world means the cable access community must move from a focus on a fairly specific slice of media policy – cable franchising – to a near-boundless concern for issues affecting not just broadband, but also wireless, spectrum licensing, and communication standards. In order to prioritize limited resources, we have broken the policy review into four sections:

  • Immediate Community Media Priorities addressing immediate threats and impacts to cable access;

  • Policy Priorities in the New Landscape focusing on preserving an open Internet and increasing its use;

  • Longer Term Structural Priorities addressing mobile and wireless technologies that, while critical to the public at large, are more of a stretch for the PEG community; and

  • Policy Priorities related to Federal Funding Programs.

How we address these issues will determine the extent to which people control the infrastructure for their community media or are subject to chokepoints held by commercial service providers. In order to preserve the public's ability to make and distribute our own media, ACM and their peer associations of community media will need to engage in these policy debates together, at all levels of government.

We need to adapt the mission for community media. The key to sustaining a community media center in the future will be through its role in the provision of local broadband networks, operation of radio broadcast licenses as well as other communications infrastructure.