Published June 20, 2019
By MICHAEL GEOFFRION SCANNELL
NORTH READING — NORCAM will hold its Annual Meeting next Thursday, June 27 at 6 p.m. in the NORCAM Studio at the Damon Tavern, across from the Flint Memorial Library, in the midst of real risks to continued local television.
The purpose of this meeting is for members to elect the organization’s Board of Directors for the upcoming year, discuss recent accomplishments, and plans and goals for the future, including lurking dangers facing all local access TV. Anyone interested who is not a current member is welcome to join.
NORCAM, or North Reading Cable Access and Media, is PEG (Public, Educational and Government) access television that provides equipment, training, facilities and channel air time to members of the community-at-large.
According to NORCAM Executive Director Rob Carbone, “Anyone and everyone can sign up and take classes on how to use our cameras, edit video and produce programs in our studio. We also provide coverage of government meetings and community events, as well as relying on volunteer help to cover these events.”
Carbone maintains that, “This meeting is for the members more than it is for the organization because we want them to be more involved and help us shape the future of our organization. We do ask everyone to RSVP before June 27.”
Referring to new challenges to NORCAM, Carbone explains that the cable companies, Comcast and Verizon, have contracts with each town they serve. A community the size of North Reading, is worth around $30 million over 10 years, and out of the $30 million a small percentage is returned to the community.
The cable provider also provides “in-kind” services such as providing the channels for PEG Access Television, technical support for on-air signal quality, equipment to transmit these signals for re-distribution to the community, and more.
What is currently being proposed by the FCC is that these cable providers can provide a value for, and thus monetize, these “in-kind” services and then deduct that amount from the franchise fees collected from the community. This would essentially wipe out the budgets of any PEG Access Television facility such as NORCAM and, in some instances, even incur a debt for the municipality to pay for beyond what is already collected in franchise fees, according to Carbone.
Carbone continued, “Hypothetically, if the cable provider collected $3 million annually from North Reading, and that cable provider valued these ‘in kind’ services at $4 million, not only would there be no funding for PEG Access Television but the municipality would still owe another $1 million for ‘in kind’ services that they may never fully see or enjoy. There’d be no NORCAM, so there would still be those three PEG Access Television channels showing nothing but a blank screen for three months, and then, according to the contract, since there is no content on those channels, the cable provider would reclaim them.”
According to Carbone, NORCAM provides hyper-local, community-focused television content but if that disappears under the proposed FCC changes, “subscribers will still have to pay that franchise fee and the cable provider will reap the benefits. There will be no coverage of Select Board meetings, School Committee meetings, Town Meeting, church services, graduation, library events, Historical Society presentations, etc., and there will be no one to provide any of those services to the community, but you’ll still pay for it and maybe even more because of these ‘in kind’ services that can be valued at more than what the community already pays in fees.”
“That extra, hypothetical, $1 million I mentioned earlier now falls upon the taxpayer, and some of those taxpayers do not subscribe to cable nor pay the franchise fee, but they’ll be paying for it. That is just not right. We cannot let this situation become a reality, and I urge anyone reading to research this more and contact their elected officials. PEG Access Television groups such as The Alliance for Community Media and, more locally, Mass Access, are working with our elected officials on this matter.”
Carbone urges, “Please, be heard and express your concerns regarding this because even if you do not support NORCAM or PEG Access Television it is still a fee (or even a future tax) that you will pay for.”
“But please do support NORCAM and PEG Access Television by getting involved. Anyone who is a member of NORCAM is invited to the meeting, and we encourage it. We would like to see more of our members attend and become involved further in our organization. Perhaps they have ideas or feedback we have yet to hear and consider,” Carbone said.
How to become member
NORCAM membership fees are $10 for students and seniors and $20 for individuals, families and organizations. Organizations over four members add $5 per member. The NORCAM office is open Mondays through Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 978-664-0501. In addition to Carbone serving as its executive director, NORCAM’s Public Access Coordinator is Phil Healy and the Government Access Coordinator is Jason Smith.