J.J. SmithAt least one public, education and government channel advocacy group would like the man nominated to lead the Federal Communications Commission to focus more attention on the PEG channels than the outgoing FCC chairman did.
On May 1, President Obama nominated Tom Wheeler—managing director of the investment firm Core Capital Partners and head of the FCC panel that advises the agency on technology issues—to serve as chairman of the FCC. If confirmed by the Senate, Wheeler will replace Chairman Julius Genachowski, who assumed the post in 2009 and who, in March, announced his departure.
Obama also designated Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who has served since Aug. 3, 2009, as acting chairwoman of the FCC—the first woman to ever head the commission—when Genachowski leaves in mid-May.
If Wheeler is confirmed, he needs to help the FCC focus more attention on the PEG stations because there are thousands of them, said Bunnie Riedel, the executive director of the activist PEG organization American Community Television. “[The FCC commissioners] don’t pay any attention them. They never have,” she said.
As of March 2011, there were at least 3,946 full-power and lowpower commercial and public broadcast stations in the United States. A source within the PEG community says there are more than 3,000 PEG channels nationwide.
“No one knows the full extent of how many PEG channels there are; not even me,” Riedel said. “Because they don’t have to get broadcast licenses, there are a lot of places where PEG channels exist that we didn’t know existed,” she said. “Every day I find new channels.”
‘GOOD FIRST STEP’
Riedel recommended that “a good first step” for Wheeler, or whoever is confirmed as the new FCC chair, would be to conduct a thorough, comprehensive census of the PEG channels to document each channel and pinpoint its location.
To conduct such a census would require organizing a phone bank of at least a dozen callers, Riedel said. Using maps of congressional districts, the callers would go state by state, identifying every municipality and contact town, city and county officials to ask if there is a PEG channel within their jurisdiction.
It does seem that PEG channels do not get the attention from the FCC that other broadcasters receive. Whether it is because they are jurisdictional in scope or they do not sell themselves enough is not known. But, what is clear is that this is a chance for the FCC leadership to show that it is not ignoring the PEG channels. The path is clear; all they have to do is take that first step.