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Channel 14 hopes community stays tuned

With loss of funding, public access station struggles to survive

May 7, 2012

West Allis - Channel 14, the local public access cable station that has brought the West Allis Christmas parade and other big community events to small screen for 30 years, could go dark by late summer.

The station's funding has dried up now that Time Warner Cable, and with other cable companies across the state, is no longer required to pay for local public access channels, following a decision by the state Legislature last year to let the longstanding requirement die.

Public access stations train ordinary citizens to televise events or put on their own TV shows either as a service or for entertainment. Unless Channel 14 is successful at fundraising or finding another funding source, it will no longer be able to offer programming once its remaining funds are gone.

The fee and the impact

Because the public access funding came from an additional fee Time Warner charged its cable television customers, the company argued that the fee put it at a competitive disadvantage.

But Robert Schram, a director of channel 14, said he finds that hard to believe.

The public access fee is $8 per year per subscriber, or 87 cents a month, he said.

"I don't think many people complained," Schram said.

But collectively, the fees provided substantial funding -the station had received $150,000 annually from Time Warner.

Now Channel 14 is throwing itself on the generosity of the community.

"What we need now is money," Schram said, whether it be through through donations, fundraising events or government help."

A place in the community

Schram notes that the station's struggles isn't about its relevance to the community.

"It's not for lack of interest" that the station is faltering, Schram said. "It's crazy busy here."

Channel 14 is one of the state's most active public access stations, offering not only live event coverage but about 200 shows and 20 series, he said.

Sharon Rhode, president of the Channel 14 board of directors, said the station plays a significant role in West Allis.

"What I'm concerned about is it's local access and it's part of freedom of speech for the local community," Rhode said.

If people don't think things are going properly, they can present their own shows or even a series to give the facts as they see them, she said. The channel currently has one political show.

The station also gives young talent exposure, Rhode added.

"I like to support young singers in the area," she said.

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