The Berkshire Eagle  reports  a federal ruling limiting franchise fees that cities and towns can charge cable companies might jeopardize or even kill local public access channels that provide TV and online coverage of meetings and also offer locally produced informational programming.

The Federal Communications Commission's 3-2 vote last week along party lines in support of Republican Chairman Ajit Pai's plan also bars local governments from regulating broadband internet access service offered on cable.

The ruling permits cable providers such as Charter/Spectrum, which serves most of Berkshire County, to deduct in-kind services and equipment from the maximum fees cities and towns can charge the companies for local access — 5 percent of annual gross revenues on cable bills. Those fees support public access channels.

According to community programming advocates, the decision is contrary to the 1984 Cable Act approved by Congress, which intended only monetary payments to be counted as fees. The change targets local public, educational and government channels, which could face extinction.

But the ruling has drawn strong opposition from local cable leaders, politicians and government officials.

The decision "risks grave harm" to communities, said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, one of two Democrat who voted against the plan.




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