Guest post by Rob McCausland
This is the third installment in a three-part series mapping U.S. community access television providers. In Part 1, we looked at the largest U.S. cities (the 276 that are over 100,000 in population), mapping the widespread use (93%) of access channels for government meeting coverage. In Part 2, we focused on those communities, regardless of population size, where educational institutions are managing access channels, mapping 209 higher education institutions and 286 primary and secondary institutions. Here we focus on the two remaining major types of public sector access providers - nonprofit organizations and government agencies. The data in all these posts come from a collaboratively edited Google Doc spreadsheet list of access television providers - 2,000 strong and growing - which has been compiled since October: U.S. Community Access Television Providers, By State and Service Area.
Let's Go to the Maps
From the data collected so far, the online interactive maps show 471 nonprofit organizations and 907 government agencies that manage access channels.
First, the nonprofit organizations that manage community access channels:
And second, the government-managed community access channels:
Other public sector providers remaining to be mapped are 39 multi-jurisdictional authorities, 9 libraries, and 25 "Other." Not yet mapped are those cable providers who are managing access television channels themselves. So far, I’ve only identified 89 of these. I'm certain there are far more, but that data has not been easy to obtain.
Professor Goodman: Do we need PEG anymore?
I began these posts recalling Professor Ellen Goodman's question at an FCC Future of Media hearing she co-moderated last April. With the FCC's Future of Media report expected to be released in 2011 it wasn't clear to me that the FCC record had yet reflected the depth and breadth of community access television services across the country. My posts and maps here have been, initially, an attempt to help ensure that community access TV is given due regard in their report. With over 2,000 access providers now documented across all fifty states, I think that case has been made. Do we need PEG anymore? In a word: absolutely! Allow them to be eliminated, and you've got a big hole in the public media landscape to fill.
Still, more information can and needs to be collected to better describe these services, their reach, and their impact. At a minimum:
- First, there are doubtless still many more providers who can be identified and added to this list.
- Second, more precise descriptions and mapping of these channels' service areas is needed. In many cases, providers’ services reach many more communities than the ones listed and mapped here. The geographical reach of these channels is far greater than these push-pin Google maps suggest; and
- Third, as explained below the quantity of channels needs to be compiled (by type or function, to the best extent possible), and the amount of non-repeat local programming hours produced and distributed needs to be totaled.
Finally, there is an opportunity to explore how PEG contributes to meeting the information needs of communities not only by providing information, but also permitting engagement with that information--more about this in a future post. I look forward to collaborating with others as I seek to answer these questions.
Post-script: Why Not Count Access Channels by Type?
Great idea - but first things first. The expectation is that we should be able to report x number of public channels, y of educational channels, and z of governmental channels, yes? Not so fast. A difficulty comes from the fact that, in the real world, not all channels are neatly definable as one or the other. First, the standard definitions of P, E, and G channels are not all that clean or precise. Of the three, only one (P) is pretty much universally defined completely by its programs’ source (“comes from the public”). The other two channel types are sometimes defined by their programs’ source, but other times by their programs’ content.
As messy as it is, if we take as our definition that the P, E, and G channels contain programming that is exclusively or predominantly P, E, or G in nature, we find that there are enough examples of channels' blending their programming content and sources to make such categorical accounting nearly meaningless. And it’s not like there's a one-to-one correspondence between management type and channel type, either. Many government agencies manage public access channels, for example, just as many NPO-managed public channels carry government meetings coverage as part of their chartered mission.
And that's not even taking into account the uniquely valuable, but too-often overlooked community "bulletin board"channels. Do we call those P, E, or G? For these reasons I use "community access," referring to all of these channel types together.
It’s a difficult enough task coming up with a comprehensive list of access providers by management type - one with current street addresses, managers' names, phone numbers, and email addresses. The collaboratively-edited Google Doc spreadsheet is proving to be a useful tool for gathering and presenting such "directory" type of information. However, it’s likely not yet the best tool for quantifying channels by type or function.