Public Access TV

Public access is a way for citizens to put their own shows on cable TV. Baltimore City currently has one public access channel, Ch. 75. Approximately 110,000 households in Baltimore City—almost half the households—get cable TV and Ch. 75.

Public access was made possible by the Cable Act of 1984 that allows municipalities to require that cable TV companies provide channels for public, education and government (PEG) access in return for having access to right-of-ways to run their cables and make lots of money. This provision has been under threat in the past in the U.S. Congress from the COPE Act of 2006.

Public access TV (the P in PEG) started broadcasting in Baltimore City in 1993 through a nonprofit called Baltimore Cable Access Corporation (BCAC) from a facility at Coppin State College, but that operation ran out of funding and failed in 2000. After that, public access was moved to the Mayor's Office of Cable and Communications (MOCC), whose main mission is the operation of the government (the G in PEG) channel, Ch. 25. City residents no longer had access to studio or editing space, but they could still submit tapes (and later DVDs as well) and have them played on the public access channel.

In December 2004 Baltimore City and Comcast agreed on a new 12-year contract that specified that the mayor at that time, Martin O'Malley, appoint a Board of Incorporators to help setup a tax-exempt corporation to run public access TV independently from the city. As a result, Community Media of Baltimore City (CMBC), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, was formed. The first meeting of the initial 13-member CMBC Board of Directors was Thursday, Feb. 1, 2007 (for a more detailed history of public access in Baltimore, see the timeline).

The CMBC board currently oversees the operation of the public access channel, and the organization has its own office space at 326 St. Paul Place, but programming for Ch. 75 is still submitted and broadcast at the MOCC facility at 8 Market Pl., where there is an uplink to Comcast. Hiring of staff to run the channel has been hampered (there is currently only one paid staff person and an intern) by a clause in the contract that stipulates that most of the funding Ch. 75 receives must be spent on capital expenses and not operational expenses.

For more information on public access television in general, see the Wikipedia article.