How We Got Our Name(s)

  • “Public, Educational, Governmental Access (PEG Access)”
  • “Access Management Organization (AMO)”
  • “Community Media Access Center (CMAC)”
  • “Public Access Station”

Q. How confusing! Why on earth do we have all these names for the same thing?
A. Because the Federal government, Vermont’s government, our professional field and the general public (in that order, above) said so!

The Birth of “Public Access”

The concept of “public access” has been used for many things for over a hundred years:  land and parks, government documents, ocean beaches, buildings, and so on.  But here’s the story of how it came to be applied to something new:  television.

Let’s go back to the late 1940’s when after World War II televisions began to be manufactured and local broadcast television stations began sprout and spread in small towns and large cities all over the United States.  And much of it live, with local folks doing the weather, kids sitting on Santa’s lap waving at their relatives at home, and local talent doing skits and showing film cartoons.

But the public’s closer access to the television medium began to erode in the 1950’s, as hundreds of small towns and medium-size cities began to have their TV stations killed off by TV stations in large cities.  With their strong, far-reaching signals, advertisers flocked to them because they could reach more people.  Those smaller advertisers who used to put their ads on the now-gone small TV stations couldn’t afford the higher rates and so they, too, were losers in the earliest amalgamation and corporatization of television.

But so were the residents of surrounding communities out of luck.   Citizens were no longer invited into their little local studios to be interviewed, their local news and events were no longer being covered, and the voices of giant swaths of the public were shut out of the electronic medium.

Residents of larger cities didn’t find themselves in any better situation. Bigger TV stations meant that more expensive equipment, air time and programming they had to buy from their national network affiliations and syndicators lead to bigger budgets.  Folks began to see local news gathering operations focus on splashy dramatic stories and stories with regional appeal rather than small neighborhood happenings and personal stories. The natives became restless.

Then along came the blossoming of Cable Television in the late 1960s! First beginning to spread in the early 1950’s to bring broadcast signals from cities to residents of suburban and rural areas, cable TV was seen by concerned community groups as possibly a way to reverse the disappearance of locally-responsive TV and bring stories about problems in their neighborhood into peoples’ homes. But it wasn’t until the consumer Sony Portapak was introduced in 1967 that these groups were able to collectively purchase equipment, train themselves and others to document local problems, and bring the videotapes to the cable operators asking—sometimes demanding—that they be given a channel to cablecast them. And many cable operators did, voluntarily.

By 1972, community groups’ public access to cable TV had spread to several cities, many cable operators were sweetening their bids to win franchises with promises of extra public access channels, and the whole idea so captured the imagination and enthusiasm of the FCC that it required cable operators to set aside public access channels. But the cable TV industry was outraged because to them this was a taking of private property. A lawsuit was soon filed in District Court, the case rose to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 1979 the Court ruled that the FCC erred in its requirement of Public Access Channels.

Public Access becomes PEG Access

In 1980, however, the United Church of Christ, the National League of Cities, the National Federation of Local Cable Programmers (now called the Alliance for Community Media) began organizing a campaign in the US Congress to find a way to enable local franchising authorities to negotiate something that was being called “Public, Educational and Governmental (PEG) Access.” Arguing successfully on the basis of its value to education, civic engagement and the exercise of free speech under the First Amendment, this was accomplished in the landmark Cable Communications Act of 1984.

Thus Public Access became officially known, in the vernacular of the Federal Government, as PEG Access.

The Birth of AMOs

Back here in Vermont in 1984, Brattleboro had already begun cablecasting local programming, and Bennington was not far behind. Other parts of the state had not yet had PEG access, but as the smaller cable companies’ service areas began to be combined through acquisitions and mergers—most notably Adelphia Cable—local groups were able to work out arrangements with Adelphia wherein Adelphia would provide equipment, staff and a channel dedicated to local programming. As the provision of PEG access became more uneven throughout the state and residents became more sophisticated as to its potential and how it had grown around the U.S., the State of Vermont began to notice that its five-page regulation dealing with cable television as a utility was hardly adequate. Then in 1989, when confronted with a new entrant seeking a certificate of public good to bring cable television for the first time to 89 Vermont towns (Grassroots Cable Company), the Public Service Board recognized the inadequacies in its current Rules. The Board opened a Rulemaking to establish, among other essential regulatory conditions, some then non-existent language about how PEG access would be handled.

The Rulemaking was completed in 1991 as Rule 8.000, Section 8.400 of which being fully dedicated to PEG Access. The Board, in requiring that cable operators transfer their responsibility for administering PEG access to qualified community groups, created the term “PEG Access Management Organizations,” or AMOs, to generically categorize these groups.

Thus the entities that administered PEG Access became officially known, in the vernacular of Vermont’s Public Service Board, as PEG AMOs.

Growing into Community Media Access Centers

The period between 1984 (after the federal Cable Act was passed) and 1992 saw a blossoming and an increased popularity and sophistication of PEG Access. Many cable operators had added staff and facilities to provide the service, and where local interest and negotiations made it possible or necessary, municipal governments and local groups opened their own physical facilities to manage PEG Access.

With places where individuals would come to be trained, produce live studio productions, borrow equipment, find crew people to help them do field shooting, and to sit and edit for hours with videotape equipment, advocates and practitioners encouraged the use and spread of a new term, more accurate and descriptive of this new industry than a public access station, a public access channel or an access management organization.

Thus was born the name of Community Media Center, or as we’re calling ourselves today in Vermont even more accurately, a Community Media Access Center.

Explore this website to discover more about what CMACs do in their communities, how they do it, see our largest cable provider’s Certificate of Public Good, read a sample PEG Access Agreement (contract) between a cable operator and an AMO, and how you can find and become involved with your local Community Media Access Center.