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Weekly News from the President- Community Media in Vermont

I just got back from a series of sites visits and a state cable hearing in the Green Mountain State, Vermont, supported by Greg Epler-Wood and the Vermont Access Network. ACM had supplied testimony in state certification hearings for Charter Cable. What I saw on my visit was unique and inspiriting.

There are twenty-six community media access organizations in Vermont. To me that’s a lot, but let’s put that number in perspective. There are 650,000 people who live in this very rural mountainous state. Burlington, Vermont’s largest city has a population of 42,000 people. Montpelier is the smallest state capitol in the U-S with a population of 7,700.

Because of its size and remoteness, commercial media mostly ignore Vermont. So community media channels provide something very unique to Vermonters. The channels I visited are providing vital connections to local civic institutions, and actually reflect the experiences and opinions of Vermonters. They are the embodiment of localism.

I visited eight facilities in the state, each with its own character and focus, and yet each was connected by a sense of mission and the desire to support one another.

The stations located in Burlington for example are exploring co-location and joint planning of technical services and will be hosting a low power FM radio station in the near future.

The facility in Barre is both producing Vermont-branded programs that are distributed to outlets outside the state, and collaborating with the local newspaper to produce public affairs programs and sustain local journalism.

MMC-TV in Richmond produces about 300 programs each year for the communities they serve, ranging from community meetings to cultural performances. That’s for three towns with a combined population of 12,000 people.

And while the collected Vermont stations produce some 4,500 programs per year for their individual communities, they have also realized the power of their local stories in capturing Vermont civic and cultural life. They are sharing media through the Vermont Media Exchange to supplement their missions and improve their channel outputs.

The only seeming drawback of community media life in Vermont? The eight below temperatures on the sites visits, I suppose. Still, there was a lot of heart-warming hospitality and great ideas for how the national ACM organization can work in partnership with the community access organizations in the state.

My thanks to the Vermont Access Network Board of Directors and Greg Epler-Wood; MMC-TV in Richmond; RETN, VCAM and CCTV, Burlington; ORCA in Montpelier; Woodstock Community Television in Woodstock; CCTV in Barre; and CATV in White River Junction for their insights and hospitality. Information about community access television in Vermont can be found at www.vermontaccess.net

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Even though the holidays came and went, ACM has been busy on public policy matters representing PEG in Washington DC.

The Alliance has filed reply comments in the Comcast Time Warner Charter Greatland transactions and the AT&T DirecTV mergers stating the problems we see with these deals. We partnered with the Alliance for Communications Democracy and Common Cause in the filings, and will be working hard in 2015 to build and strengthen coalitions to support Public, Education and Government Access media in our public policy work.

One example: The House Commerce committee is gathering information from stakeholders about the prospects for re-writing the nation’s telecommunications laws. ACM will be representing Public, Education and Government Access organizations across the U.S. as they get input and will be partnering with NATOA to help inform the committee about the importance our work across America.

If you are interested in being involved in our policy work in 2015 to protect PEG access, please let me know. We will be working with volunteers across the U.S. to help make our case to policy makers.

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The events in France and across the world in the wake of the attack on Charlie Hebdo are both sobering and encouraging to me.

The acts of violence against journalists were heinous and despicable. But the debate following the attacks is encouraging because we now see a robust discussion of freedom of expression and what it means in our lives. As someone who works for free expression, you may know it can be a lonely occupation. It’s a public good that is only known when it disappears – and it’s abstract for most people.

Will all the people posting “Je suis Charlie” on Facebook continue to promote free speech in their communities in the coming year? I hope so.

Mike Wassenaar- President
mwassenaar@allcommunitymedia.org
612-298-3805