Starting in January of next year, the operators of several Public, Educational, and Government channels says their main source of funding will expire because local governments will no longer be able to put a one-percent surcharge on cable bills.

Federal law allows the fee to help support those stations, which often carry locally produced TV programs and government meetings. However, state legislation deregulating the cable industry put a sunset on the fees starting next year.

Wisconsin Association of PEG channels executive director Mary Cardona says a large portion of the nearly 200 public access stations in the state rely almost entirely on that fee to stay on the air. She says several will close when it goes away, and some already have.

Cardona and others are supporting legislation at the Capitol that gives local government the option to continue charging the fee.

Critics of the bill say other options are available to continue funding those stations. Wired Wisconsin director Thad Nation says local governments already receive a five-percent franchise fee, which could be partially used to keep PEG channels on the air. He says many have decided to use that money for other purposes though.

Cardona and other PEG channel leaders counter that the five-percent is meant to compensate government for cable companies using public right of ways to reach customers.

Without allowing the fee to continue, state Representative Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) says Wisconsin will lose a valuable resource. His bill is being considered by an Assembly committee.

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:12)


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