New state and federal regulations could threaten funding for Falmouth Community Television.
Comcast currently pays 4.5 percent of its gross annual revenues from Falmouth subscribers directly to Falmouth Community Television. A recent Massachusetts Department of Revenue ruling would have the money come from Comcast to the Town of Falmouth, which would then fund FCTV through grants, Director of Finance Jennifer Mullen said during the Falmouth Cable Advisory Committee meeting Monday, October 7.
The finance director’s statement was in response to a question from committee chairman Robert Mascali about whether the town is required to go out to bid for its public access cable provider.
“Right now FCTV is getting the money directly from Comcast, and the town has the agreements with FCTV and Comcast,” Ms. Mullen said. “I talked with the inspector general’s office, and if FCTV continues to get money directly from Comcast then we would have to go out and do an RFP [request for proposal]. Or we would take the money from Comcast and give it to FCTV as a grant. That’s the way we’re going to go.”
Also during the discussion, the committee spoke about the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to adopt rules that will limit the benefits communities get in return for Comcast’s use of public property. The move could cost communities millions of dollars in hidden fees to cable companies and could defund public-access television stations, including FCTV.
“The FCC issued a ruling on August 1. The order was published in the ‘Federal Register’ on August 27, and the ruling took effect on September 26,” said Debra Rogers, FCTV’s executive director and chief executive officer. “Appeals have to filed by October 28, and I do expect appeals to be filed. I believe a lot of the challenges will come from municipalities.”
Because FCTV receives 4.5 percent gross annual revenue and not the 5 percent maximum from Comcast, that gives FCTV a 0.5 percent buffer, Ms. Rogers said.
As to what Comcast’s next step will be, Ms. Rogers said the town managers will receive a letter from Comcast that will specify which in-kind items they are going to reduce and what the value of those items will be. The town will then have a certain amount of time to respond.
Mr. Mascali asked how the legal actions might proceed nationwide, and Ms. Rogers said she could not say.
“I do know there will not be a request for a stay. Comcast can’t deal with the channels at this point because that would shut everybody down and there would have been appeals for stays,” she said. “An example of an in-kind service would be cable drops in the schools and whatever kind of service they have in the schools. There’s a value to that that they might look at. There are maintenance costs. They can’t take the value of the channels. That was the good news for us.”
Ms. Mullen said that the committee should not speculate too much about how Comcast will proceed until the town receives the cable provider’s letter.
The Comcast and FCTV licenses are both set to be renewed in November 2021, Ms. Rogers said, which prompted Mr. Mascali to ask if the FCTV license will likely stay the way it has been or if there will be major changes to it.
“There are two ways to provide the service for PEG [public educational government] access, and it’s either FCTV or we hire people and then we manage people to do it,” Ms. Mullen said. “If you want to give an update to the board of selectmen, you can ask that question. I’m not going to speak for the board, but I would be absolutely shocked if someone said they didn’t want FCTV to provide this service.”