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Wausau Community Access TV fee proposal has critics

by
The logo for Wausau's Public Access stations
The logo for Wausau's Public Access stations

WAUSAU, WI (WSAU) -  The recent proposal to charge fees to public access programming producers in Wausau was tabled, and one opponent says that’s a good thing.

Wausau’s finance committee approved a policy and procedures manual which included requiring the groups or individuals that produce television shows for the access channel to pay for each episode could force churches to stop recording services for playback due to the cost. That’s why City Council delayed a vote last week.

Another opponent of the plan is County Board member Reverend Oliver Burrows, who believes the city should be putting more of the franchise fees they already get into improving the local access channels. Burrows is concerned about Wausau having no full time supervisor or oversight committee to manage its programming and staff. He says right now, community access television is overseen by the Mayor’s office.

Burrows says the proposed plan is discriminatory and still doesn’t address screening of programs to be sure they are appropriate. “Programs that are from the Internet can be taken by WAAC personnel and put on the air, and there’s no charge for it, so the problem is we have discriminatory possibilities here. We also have the possibility of inappropriate programming coming onto the air because we don’t have staffing, supervision, and oversight.”

Burrows is concerned the city is diverting too much of the franchise fee money to the general fund, when more of it can be used to improve equipment, operations, and staffing without creating a fee for programming producers. “There is over 300-thousand dollars per year being collected from the cable provider under franchise fees. More than the 39-to-40 thousand dollars of the budget for 2013, and of that budget for 2013, $15,505 is for the two part time programmers. A majority use of the franchise fee money was to put into other places in the budget. All of those monies go directly into the general fund of the City of Wausau.”

Putting that extra 260-thousand dollars into the city’s general fund is perfectly legal, but Burrows says being legal doesn’t make it right.

The proposed policy would also exempt accredited universities from paying the producers fee. Burrows says Wausau is the only community in the state that is looking at charging a program producers fee, and they should not do it.

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