The State Legislature is considering a bill to support community access television and provide high-definition programing and include detailed listings on the cable guides.
The bill, known as “An Act supporting community access television,” is bill S.1857 in the Senate and H.2682 in the House of Representatives.
Helen Chatel, executive director of Watertown Cable Access, said that currently when you look up WCA-TV’s three channels the cable guide programs are listed as “community, eduction or government access.”
“This is useless to cable subscribers looking for the latest showing of town council or school committee,” Chatel said. “Imagine, how convenient it would be to know that your local cable access is airing a Special Town Council meeting, or a budget hearing live.”
It would also be easier to find when a locally-produced show or a high school sporting event will air.
“If someone is interested in one of the locally produced series and would like to see when it will air again, they would find it listed on the program guide of the cable provider, with a description about the guest and what the show will be about,” Chatel said.
Chatel said many in town have asked for these features, but Comcast does not feel the same way.
“At the cable ascertainment hearing back in February of 2014 when we were negotiating our contract with Comcast, it was the first thing Comcast said they would not do when we sat down to work the contract out,” Chatel said.
In the past few years Watertown Cable has updated its equipment and the station can now broadcast HD shows, however, the cable system does not allow them to do so.
“Our equipment can transmit our feed in HD as well, still the cable providers in town, have not given us the opportunity to be seen in HD on their systems,” said Chatel,
She added that the Cable Act of 1984 said that Public, Educational and Government access should be treated the same as commercial channels.
“The Federal Cable Act actually states that P.E.G. channels are to be of the same quality as commercial channels and to be located next to local TV stations, yet these cable companies feel they don’t have to provide these services to the residents/consumers that they serve, nor for the public right of way that they are using,” Chatel said.
The Watertown Town Council has also supported the passage of these bills. In Sept. 2016 the issue was brought up at a meeting of the Council’s Education and School System Matters committees.
The Council sent letters to Watertown’s State Senator – Will Brownsberger – and its two state Representatives – Jonathan Hecht and John Lawn – asking them to support the Cable Access Bill. Councilor Aaron Dushku said that the bill would help the Council fulfill one of its own goals – communication with the public.
“It has been a matter of importance for the current Town Council to do better at engaging an active and civil discourse about current affairs in Watertown,” Dushku said. “We believe that having more descriptive entries on the cable guide will help people to tune in when they’re interested in a particular issue and to be more informed in a more timely fashion on the things that matter to them.”
Dushku sent around a produced by Mass Access that explains the bill and tells people how to contact their local state reps. See the video by clicking here.