The History of Public Access Television

Copyright 2000 by Bill Olson


Mass media have never guaranteed access by the common man. Throughout history, each new medium seemed to tip the balance of equal expression further in favor of the wealthy elite. Literacy gave the written word to those who could afford an education. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television have had exclusive ownership, and paid advertising as a means of personal expression has been hindered by high rates. Even the notion of publicly owned airwaves has never guaranteed people automatic access to them. The common man's traditional forum has often been a soapbox in the town-square - a strong voice on a busy street corner.

Today, the corner teeming with pedestrians is dying, replaced by shopping malls whose corporate owners prohibit protesters and orators. But in many communities with cable television, the common man has a new soapbox - one from which his voice can potentially reach thousands of cable subscribers.

Public access TV, also called cable access, community access, community television, and PEG (Public, Education and Government), is a system that provides television production equipment, training and airtime on a local cable channel, so members of the public can produce their own shows and televise them to a mass audience.

In the United States, public access depends on the cable medium. Community Antenna Television began in Astoria, Oregon, when L. E. Parsons erected an antenna atop the hotel in which he lived to receive the broadcasts of KRSC-TV in Seattle, Washington. He later extended service to the hotel lobby, then to a nearby music store, and later to residences (Gillespie, 20).