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Shirley Access Channel Sounds Alarm on FCC Change

January 2, 2019

SHIRLEY -- Most area towns have contracts, typically for 10 years, with their cable providers that include public-access channels and a stipend to cover programming and production costs, including equipment.

After a 1984 law made such arrangements possible, many area communities formed local access broadcasting outfits such as APAC in Ayer and SPACO, in Shirley.

SPACO operates on a tight budget with one major source of income: Comcast, which taps cable TV subscribers for that money as a surcharge on their bills.

When Shirley’s check comes in, it gets funneled to SPACO, which has its own bills to pay, from buying and maintaining costly tools of the trade, such as video cameras and studio equipment, to salaries for a small staff: basically, “the cable guy” who films local meetings and events and longtime Executive Director Lou Carreras.

In addition to other duties, Carreras mentors Ayer Shirley Middle School students who want to learn videography and broadcasting skills in the studio, located in the school. It’s an educational extra, but some interns may sign on as SPACO volunteers.

Shirley’s deal with Comcast has worked for decades, but a new regulation proposed by the Federal Communications Commission is set to change it. The Board of Selectmen agreed to weigh in against the change, voting to send a letter to the Federal Communications Commission.

In his letter to the FCC, Carreras wrote: “The Shirley Public Access Corporation feels that the proposed changes in public access channels and organizations’ funding would be, if enacted, deleterious to the local community we serve.”

Bottom line: The public loses.

If funding goes away, so does SPACO and other groups like it.

Proponents said cable subscribers in Shirley could lose three public-access TV stations that now air news, educational programs, studio interviews, live or taped broadcasts of public meetings and cultural events, community bulletin board and the option to view SPACO shows any time via “video on demand.”

Carerras in his letter lists side-effects he anticipates such as “stifling local democracy” as “vital” public meeting coverage goes dark. A less-informed citizenry is less powerful, he said. The list goes on, but the gist is that if the new law goes through, it will unravel existing law and undercut agreements between cable companies and communities. “We don’t how much, or how it will work,” Carreras told selectmen recently. “But basically (it means) cable companies can do what they want.”

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