Public access stations seek help from Vt. lawmakers

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont community access television stations are asking state lawmakers for help after after a federal rule change threatens to ax their funding.

The proposed Federal Communications Commission rule change could cut millions worth of funding that some 25 local access channels receive from cable TV providers. In Vermont, the stations employ over 100 people.

A study group of Vermont lawmakers faced a flood of testimony Monday seeking funding if the rule change goes through. Though the local stations are best known for streaming city council and school board meetings, station officials say they touch all corners of the community, offering cooking, art and talk shows, and classes for kids.

"We provide educational services, we provide government access coverage, we provide news and information for our communities," said Tammie Reilly with Greater Northshire Access TV.

Lawmakers, while appearing supportive, were non-committal about where the replacement funding would come from. "It could be a change to universal service charges, it could be a connection fee, it could a straight appropriation, we're not committing to anything at this point," said Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham County.

Historically, public access viewership has been far lower than commercial networks. But in an age of cord-cutters and social media, where information can be spread at the tap of a button, federal officials -- and cable operators-- are asking why support what they call an outdated model.

Reilly and others say public access preserves the visual stories of the community, much like a newspaper. "I think we connect our communities and we connect our community members to each other through local information through the work that we do," she said.

It's not clear if and when this rule change will go through, but lawmakers say they'll look at funding mechanisms within the coming months.