Add Cable Public Access to the Endangered Species List

The MACTA talk was interesting. I sat next to tech lawyer, Brian Grogan. He explained the regulatory difference between cable companies and phone companies in this age where everyone is offering video over IP.

I believe the difference came down to whether the video was offered exclusively on the proprietary network or available on the public Internet. He used the example of a music video. If the video was watched on MTV’s television channel via coaxial cable, the service provider was regulated. If the video was downloaded from mtv.com, the service provider was not.

To me that feels like an microscopic hair-splitting. Though, I’m sure when the laws were originally written the public internet was non-existent and production tools like digital video cameras were extremely expensive.

Either way, today a portion of your cable bill (not your phone or satellite TV bills) pays for the public access channels. These legislated-into-existence channels great way for citizens to create media and for a community to distribute city council meetings and other governmental events easily.

In 2005, when media production tools are inexpensive and everyone with a website can be a television or radio channel, public access television channels should shutter their studio doors. For any moment now, Comcast or TimeWarner could decide to deliver all video programming over the public internet and POOF – no legal requirement for a public access channel.

Now, I believe, all government meetings – at all levels – should be podcast (audio or video, though audio is preferrable). This transparency currently provided by public access channels is of utmost importance to our democracy, but cable television is the wrong delivery medium for five reasons:

  1. Searching and retrieving archived programs is inherently cumbersome.
  2. Programming is limited to a 24-hour clock.
  3. I don’t have cable and don’t plan on purchasing it anytime soon.
  4. RSS can automatically deliver audio, video, or any other file type.
  5. Municipal Wi-Fi eliminates the need for a cable access channel.

This puts cable access channels on the same list as record distribution companies – the endangered species list. If either of them want to stay in the same business, they need to offer bandwidth. Lots and lots of it, with BitTorrent thrown in. Otherwise in 5 years, they’ll be footnotes the technology history books.

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