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Lobbying for PEG Funds in Connecticut

By: Donna Liu, Director, New Media Services, TelVue Corporation

PEG stations in Connecticut are lobbying hard to turn back an unfortunate tide of legislation that wiped out an important source of PEG funding last summer.

On March 4, PEG advocates had a chance to make their case at a hearing of the state’s Energy and Technology Committee (see their report here). Jen Evans (ED, West Hartford), Pua Ford (Woodbridge), and others including State Representative Mary M. Muchinski (Wallingford) and Executive Directors Joanie McCauley from Nutmeg TV (Farmington Valley) , Joe Schofield (Greater New Haven) and Walter Mann (North Haven and Branford area) and Gil Martinez (Hartford) made the point that in this period of rapid technological change, technology skills are not a luxury, they are essential for participation in today’s world (you don’t get a job anymore by stuffing a letter in an envelop). Connecticut’s community media centers are providing the tools and training necessary – but need to keep their own technology up to date.

Evans, Ford and their allies are looking to reverse the transfer of $6.9 million dollars out of a statewide fund that was meant to ensure that libraries, community media centers and schools could keep pace with technological change.  The fund – known as PEGPETIA – was supposed to future-proof PEG operations in Connecticut.  Because of the 2007 cable franchise deregulation, PEGPETIA is the only mechanism left in Connecticut for pure capital funds, beyond what funds can be raised at the community level. Operating funding for PEG in Connecticut is limited to local fund-raising and modest per-subscriber fees; franchise fees have always gone to the state general fund.

Evans explains:  “During the previous administration, the funds were re-appropriated resulting in the interruption of funds.  Currently, we face another disruption and no grant applications are being considered.  Once again access centers face having to either raise more funds locally, adjust operating budgets including staffing or choose to not improve the technology until the fund is replenished.  The stability of this fund is critical for centers to operate effectively and plan for the future.”

Faced with a budget deficit, the legislature swept the PEGPETIA 2014 and 2015 monies into a general fund to balance the budget.  Since that decision last summer, the economic upturn has led to a budget surplus, and several bills have been submitted with the aim of returning those funds back to their intended purpose:  to fund public access television. If these bills succeed, it’s possible that the funds could flow again as soon as August 1. Connecticut community media advocates remain hopeful that the legislature will recognize the importance of these funds and rescind the sweep.