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T.V. Trouble

Michael Bielawski Dec 9, 2005

Workers in the garment industry in Chinatown have traditionally been a hidden

population, overlooked by local media, which focus on booming local business

instead of sweatshop-like working conditions. But in the early 1990s, a few garment workers found

a new way to tell their side of the story: a local public access cable station called Manhattan

Neighborhood Network (MNN). Community Access provides anyone willing to be trained in

television production with professional media resources and live air time on cable – all for free.

“These workers were able to use these resources to make videos that reflected their

experiences,” said Betty Yu, a Community Outreach and Media Specialist at MNN.

For decades, community-access television has been the voice of those neglected by profit-driven

and politically biased mainstream media. In Manhattan alone, four community-access cable

channels broadcast to a potential daily audience of 1.5 million viewers.

“Community-access TV is unique in the sense that disenfranchised communities otherwise ignored by

corporate media can have access to media resources,” said Lyell Davies, also of MNN.

But now, the fate of community-access television depends on legislation pending in the Republicancontrolled House of Representatives that would dramatically

cut or wipe out public funding.

As it stands, cable companies are required to put five percent of their gross income toward community-

access television in order to compensate for their use of community resources (digging under

streets to run cables underground, for example).

The proposed legislation was initiated when telephone companies saw an opportunity to apply

developing broadband technology. Phone companies argue that once they adapt to broadband, they

should not have to give up the five percent gross revenue that cable companies are required to relinquish. They say this would give them better leverage to compete with cable companies that currently

monopolize entire markets.

Those who work at Manhattan Neighborhood Network say even the current 5 percent deal with

cable companies is inadequate for their needs, so any budget cuts would have a huge impact.

Now pending are four telecommunications bills, all of which would curtail community-access television.

But the latest, the BITS 2 bill, is said to be the one most aggressively pursued by Republicans. It is

in the first of three stages needed to become law, and opponents say the best chance to defeat the bill

is now.

More than 60 cities across the country have already passed resolutions asking their national representatives

to oppose these bills. For more information, go to the MNN website mnn.org/saveaccess,

where you can find petitions against the bills. MNN is currently running public service announcements

about the looming bills, but they stress that it is largely up to viewers to spread the word about

these problems.