Educational-access television centers usually operate a cable channel on the local cable system and often include elements and principle that echo public-access television in terms of training and resources. Many school media and video training programs are based in the educational-access television centers. Programming distributed by these centers ranges from student or parent produced media to coverage of local school functions and bodies (such as the School Council meetings or Committee). There are a number of notable educational-access television organizations that produce programming for a national audience and experiences a very broad distribution.
Variety called Public Access a "technically proficient" film considering its small budget and schedule. The trade paper observed, "What Singer and his co-scenarists seem to be getting at is a critique of Reagan-era greed, hypocrisy and antihumanism, as well as a commentary on the power of the media and its ability to distract the public from issues with attractive surfaces." It summarized, "This very low-budget study of malaise lurking beneath the tranquil surface of a typical small American town is serious-minded and bounces around some provocative ideas, but is vague about important matters as key story points, motivation and overriding theme." Newsweek wrote, "The 27-year-old Singer's a real talent, but the moody 'Public Access' needed a stronger script. After an intriguing buildup, in which a mysterious stranger enters a small town and stirs up trouble on public-access TV, the story self-destructs."
A clean-cut drifter ends up in a small town called Brewster. Getting wind of the local public-access television cable TV station, the man decides to host his own show called Our Town, which becomes a focal point for town citizens to call in and voice their problems anonymously. However, things start to get ugly and tensions rise for the show, which begins to elevate the man's signature catchphrase "What's wrong with Brewster?" into an entirely new subject for the people of Brewster, when the town becomes embroiled in a mess it has created, driven by a man whose intentions might be far more sinister than he appears to be.
There are public-access television or community television channels in other countries, notably in Scandinavia, Western Europe, Canada and Australia. In Germany, Norway and Sweden there are "open channels". In most countries public-access television channels are broadcast on cable but in Australia, Denmark and Norway Terrestrial television transmission is common (UHF or digital). All channels are for profit operations.
In the United States of America, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) produces public television, offering an educational television broadcasting service of professionally produced, highly curated content. It is not public-access television, and has no connection with cable-only PEG television channels. Although non-commercial educational television bears some resemblance to the E of PEG, PBS bears little resemblance to public-access television.
Municipalities must take initiative and petition the cable operator to provide the funding for PEG access as laid out by law, but municipalities may also choose to take no action and will instead keep the cable television franchise fees in a general fund. A municipality may also choose to allow government-access television (GATV) but not public-access television or may replace it with governmental access television or may take away Public-access television altogether, depending on the disposition of the local government or its voters.
Public-access television organizations remain in service in their municipalities. In a changing technology industry, many PEG organizations began investing in training and technology to distribute media in new ways using the Internet. In the twenty-first century, the consumer media market became flooded with blogs, vlogs, RSS syndication and aggregation, mobile-device and cell phone media, and countless new methods for distributing information and ideas. As cable television adopts new technologies, many public-access television centers adapted these new technologies in order to continue serving their missions and goals within their own constituency.
Equipment available for public-access television broadcasting is evolving quickly. At its birth, the state of the art PEG facilities were composed of racks full of analog videotape decks and an automated video switching system. Recently, the low cost of digital production and distribution equipment, such as cameras, non-linear editing systems, digital video playback servers and new Internet technologies have made digital content production the norm. The dropping cost of digital production and distribution gear has changed the way many PEG facilities operate.
Municipalities, local governments and even residents often confuse the difference between commercial broadcast television and PEG television. PEG television has been reported to the FCC about infractions that may apply to broadcast television, even though cable television content (including public-access television) is not subject to the same rules. Because cable television is a closed system with elective access there are fewer rules and restrictions about content.
This appeared to be a law which creates new rights, allowing local communities to require PEG channels, however, it in fact had the opposite effect. Since the franchise agreement is a license between the cable operator and the municipality, the municipality could always stipulate a PEG channel requirement, and the contracts clause of the United States Constitution prevents Congress from interfering. So while the intent may have been to correct the omission which led to the Midwest Video decision, and make PEG mandatory, the result was a law which allowed the municipality to opt out of PEG requirements, and keep 100% of the cable television franchise fees for their general fund, while providing no PEG facilities or television channel capacity. Since 1984, many public-access television centers have closed around the country as more municipalities take the opt-out provision.
In California, the passage of AB2987 or "The Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006," has changed the laws by which cable TV companies operate and as a result many public-access television studios in the state have closed. The California Public Utilities Commission now franchises cable television. However, they do not regulate PEG television, which remains the purview of the various city and county governments.
Another challenge in maintaining public-access television facilities as a free speech forum can come from within the membership of the PEG facility itself, by the overuse of commercial video programmers whose program content contains sponsorship underwriting advertisements like the type permitted on Public Broadcasting stations. Programming could then become very similar to other cable channels and programming without such sponsorship could be deprived of fair treatment by the administrators of a public-access television facility.
In contrast with public-access television, which is government-mandated access for programming, local programming is now usually programming of local interest produced by the cable operator or PEG organizations. The term is also generally accepted to refer to television programming that is not produced by a commercial broadcasting company or other media source for national or international distribution.
In United States v. Midwest Video Corp., 406 U.S. 649 (1972), the Supreme Court upheld the FCC's requirements for Local Origination facilities. However the public-access television requirement did not survive legal scrutiny seven years later.
Users of public-access television stations may participate at most levels of this structure to make content of their choosing. Generally, anyone may have their programming aired on a public-access television channel. Users are not restricted to cable subscribers, though residency requirements may apply, depending on local franchise agreements or facility policy. Many public-access television channels try to favor locally produced programs while others also carry regionally or nationally distributed programming. Such programming—regional, national or even international—is usually aired on a channel curated by the PEG operator, which also carries programs produced by professional producers. A show that originates outside the municipality is often referred to as "bicycled", "dub and submit", or "satellite" programming.
In 1979 the U.S. Supreme Court sided against the FCC in the case FCC v. Midwest Video Corp., 440 U.S. 689 (1979), determining that the FCC's new requirements exceeded the agency's statutory powers as granted to them by Congress. The Supreme Court explicitly rejected the notion that cable companies were "common carriers", meaning that all persons must be provided carriage. Instead, the Supreme Court took the stance that cable companies were private persons under the law with First Amendment to the United States Constitution rights, and that the requirement for public-access television was in fact a burden on these free speech rights.
Public-access television is often grouped with public, educational, and government access television channels, under the acronym PEG. PEG channels are typically only available on cable television systems.
Public-access television is traditionally a form of non-commercial mass media where the general public can create content television programming which is narrowcast through cable TV specialty channels. Public-access television was created in the United States between 1969 and 1971 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), under Chairman Dean Burch, based on pioneering work and advocacy of George Stoney, Red Burns (Alternate Media Center), and Sidney Dean (City Club of NY).
Congress acted to save PEG from the result of the Supreme Court Midwest Video decision. However, the legislative imperatives of compromise between the demands of the people and the demands of the cable industry yielded a law with only small benefits for consumers and public-access television advocates.
Filmmakers George Stoney, and Red Burns (who had served on the Canadian Film Board), along with Sidney Dean (City Club of NY), were instrumental in developing the theoretical legal basis and the practical need for public-access television, and helped to eventually obtain public-access television requirements in the franchise agreement between the city government and the cable company.