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April 16, 2009 10:14 AM

To Create Demand We Need More Local Content Like PEG

The aspect of the broadband stimulus that's getting almost no attention is the up to $250 million set aside to spur demand for broadband. It's shocking to me how little people seem to be talking about it despite the fact that increasing the market for broadband may have the most profound effect on spurring deployment by creating more customers.

Admittedly I've been guilty of focusing more on deployment than demand in recent weeks as well, so as a first step towards remedying that let's dive into one of the potentially best ways to increase that demand: by fostering the creation of more locally relevant content.

If you want people to go online you need to give them a reason to do so. If we want to reach the 50% or so of households without broadband access we can't get there by talking bitrate and bandwidth. We need compelling local content that they either can't get anywhere else or that it's at least more convenient to watch online.

That content could be anything, from local sports to local government meetings to local music to local healthcare information and beyond. The idea is having content that's relevant to someone living in a particular geographic area, and then making that content available online on-demand.

Because of this, it's my belief that NTIA should seriously consider any proposals from PEG stations to use BTOP demand funds to facilitate the creation of more local content.

PEG stations are already producing a lot of this local content and these funds could help them not only expand their productions but also enhance their existing and/or establish new online distribution platforms.

These funds could be transformative in enabling PEG stations to move out of a 20th century TV mindset to a 21st century online mode of all content available everywhere at any time. And in some cases these funds could help save PEG stations threatened by losing their funding to state video franchises from extinction, turning these dark days into new opportunities to make PEG more robust and relevant.

What kinds of PEG projects NTIA should fund are a bit up in the air. I think to be eligible there has to be an online distribution component of any proposal. And I'd think it makes sense to mandate that these funds be used to either create new content or to make existing content more accessible online and to help raise awareness about it.

But like the BTOP deployment dollars, which many have suggested will be used to fund pilot projects from which data can be collected as to their efficacy, I think the same mindset should apply to PEG.

We don't just want more of the same. We should be encouraging outside-of-the-box thinking, fostering new ideas for how to make local content production more sustainable, how to better reach local audiences, and how to create the kinds of compelling locally relevant experiences that will create a lot of demand for broadband.

While we can't focus all of our attention on this given that many communities have contentious relationships with incumbents, wherever possible we should support efforts to get local content producers, stakeholders, and network operators all working together in new ways. In this way we can start to showcase how PEG can enhance a network operator's business and not be a burden, which too many network operators currently consider their PEG obligations to be.

If we can help fund some new models for PEG content creation and distribution that cause more people to demand broadband then PEG should quickly become network operators' best friend as that means more customers for them. But in order to prove this argument we also need to make sure we're collecting hard data on usage so we can track various programs' success.

And if we can establish new paradigms for how PEG stations and network operators can work together in harmony then we can secure PEG's future while simultaneously bolstering the business of broadband providers and most importantly of all get people more engaged with what's happening in their communities and more interested in using broadband for other purposes.

For these reasons and more I'm a firm believer that funding progressive PEG stations could have a profound affect on increasing demand for broadband. So I encourage NTIA to seriously consider applications from these corners.

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Comments (2)

Thank you for your thoughtful commentary on PEG access TV's role in the future of broadband content. Some PEG stations are already offering their programming content online, whether by web streaming or web site archive files. And PEG's ongoing role of demystifying technologies for local content providers is well established. But as for broadband companies offering support for these activities, we've already seen a discouraging development in the state of Vermont, where statewide franchising for broadband/cable exists today.

A poster from the Vermont Access Network reports the following: Comcast is saying in current contract negotiations "No funding from us to pay for web streaming."

Your comment is dead-on that "... NTIA should seriously consider any proposals from PEG stations to use BTOP ... funds to facilitate the creation of more local content."

You may not be completely aware of how much broadband/cable providers view PEG as a nuisance, nor how difficult it might be for PEGs to gain traction in the area of online content. Without the kind of robust broadband connection necessary for streaming or downloads, and without the in-house servers to store such content, many PEGs will find it difficult to offer things like video-on-demand to online or standard cable TV viewers.


Posted by PD Berg on April 19, 2009 2:17 PM

Just got this info thru Jim Baller in DC - very interested in the idea and possibility(?) of any stimulus funds being used for PEG content? I thought all this money was for so-called shovel-ready capital projects. Also - curious as to your interest and support of PEG programming. AT&T; is onew of your sponsors? Everything I've heard so far about U-Verse would lead me to believe they most certainly are NOT supporters of PEG.



Posted by Vince Crunk on April 20, 2009 3:23 PM

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