Source: Sherman Publications

Guest viewpoint
Cable access clarified, actions flawed

July 17, 2013

By Joette Kunse

As one of the five volunteer members of the Public Access Television Committee that was appointed by the township board to advise and make recommendations, I’d like to clarify what the monies received from the cable companies to the township are intended for including the rules of their use by local government.

Each year approximately $500,000 in public access franchise fees is paid to the township by Comcast and A T & T, for the right to lay cable in the area. These funds go directly to the township’s general fund and can be used however the township board wishes.

Each township resident who subscribes for cable services with Comcast or A T & T UVerse, pay two percent for PEG fees. PEG stands for Public, Educational and Government public access channels. The township receives about $200,000 in PEG fees each year.

PEG fees have restricted usage and currently the township has over a half million dollars of PEG fees in its treasury.

The township board and the school board each voted 7-0 to approve an agreement where the township would give $200,000 of PEG fees in a capital lease to the school district to combine the high school television studio and move the public access studio from its Maybee Rd. location to the high school. The public access citizen committee spoke at both meetings and requested that the boards take some time to plan before combining facilities. Why would the committee want to delay what looks like a good partnership?

One area of disagreement between committee members and the board is the restricted use of PEG fees and how they can be used. The committee’s recommendations have been based on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) federal statute that PEG fees may only be used for the capital costs (equipment and building facilities) incurred for PEG access facilities. The FCC statute was challenged in 2008 in the Federal Sixth Circuit Court and upheld. In other words, you can’t pay salaries or buy paperclips with this money.

The township board voted 7-0 to not obey this ruling. The township budget analyst said in a memo to the Independence Township board on October 23, 2012, that “any purchases related to equipment can be charged against PEG fee revenue whereas 2) any purchases related to operational expenditures cannot be paid out of PEG fee revenues. It is very important to keep these two activities separate to avoid any issues with the state of Michigan.”

Equipment can be purchased legally for the schools and given to school studio for use by students. The $200,000 that is proposed to be given to the school is to be used for salaries and costs for the studio and does not abide by FCC laws and has the appearance of a money laundering scheme. Doing this in the name of “for the student” is not a lesson that I would want my children to learn.

After both boards voted 7 -0 to approve the contract, the following morning board members and the committee received an email from the supervisor entitled Due Diligence. It appears that after the supervisor assured both boards everything was in order, he decides he needs to do due diligence or check the details.

The committee requested planning time with the schools versus, just getting a moving truck and dumping equipment in a small area of the high school. The committee believes in Ben Franklin’s quote “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

The public access channel can be a gem for this community, highlighting businesses, organizations, and events in Clarkston and Independence. Our neighbors in Orion, Waterford, Pontiac, Oxford and Bloomfield have bustling public access and government channels which broadcast all kinds of activities. Our committee is very concerned about the continued lack of programming on the school channel.

The committee members are residents of Independence Township who were asked to learn about public access television and make recommendations. We are diverse people with different backgrounds but we all agreed the decision to give PEG fees in a $200,000 capital lease to the school is against federal law and illegal. Legally, the township can give money for equipment to the school and we support that expenditure.