The three day conference took place in Crystal City, in what is officially known as Arlington, near the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetary. This location gave me the opportunity, along with Cor Wilson - Chair of the Minnesota Association of Cable Television Administrators and a Roseville City Council member, to visit our Minnesota senators. Our mission was to discuss the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which mandates that in the future "open video systems" include Public, Educational and Government Access. We were also asking the senators to write the FCC and encourage them to create some regulatory language to accompany this section of the Telecommunication Act. We were fortunate enough to meet with both Senators, Wellstone and Grams and I met with Representative Martin Sabo. All our meetings went well and after a long day of finding my way around the power maze of DC, I took the subway back to Arlington.
The conference welcomes about 400 access centers to network, get updates on national legislation, and find out what centers of all different sizes and types are doing. Across the nation, some access centers are run by the cable provider, some by non-profits, some by the municipality, from one-person operations to those with 25 and more employees. In talking with people and thumbing through annual reports I was struck at how healthy and well funded many centers are. In Minneapolis we have continually had to fight while franchise dollars that were set aside for cable access went into the general operating funds of the city. In other places, many centers have maintained most or all of their franchise fees. Hawaii is the most amazing with an annual budget of six million dollar .
There were nine "tracks" of five sessions each, covering topics such as Public Policy, Management or Training. Some workshop titles included - Becoming an Internet Provider, New Directions in Community TV Training, Ask the Lawyers, Media Literacy and Understanding the Message in the Medium.
As the Chair of the Midwest Region, I hosted a meeting for those attending the conference from the Midwest. We had folks from Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota come together to talk about community programming in their cities and potential ways to communicate with each other. There was a large delegation attending from Milwaukee, the host site of next year's conference.
Plenary sessions were also interesting. The Opening Luncheon featured a speech by Meredith Jones, Bureau Chief, Cable Services, FCC. The speaker at the Keynote Luncheon was Michael Greenberger of the law firm, Shea & Gardner - the lead counsel for the"Alliance for Community Media vs. FCC", the case striking down the cable company's right to censor public access. I found Greenberger's speech to be both entertaining and fascinating embellished with details of fighting and winning a Supreme Court case. All of his work on this case was done pro bona. The Supreme Court victory was something that was celebrated and discussed throughout the conference.
Another highlight of the conference was the Hometown Award Ceremony, celebrating access productions from across the country and Canada. This event was held at the National Press Club in downtown Washington. The National Press Club has a huge display of black and white photographs, including famous politicians, journalists and world leaders. It was truly an honor to celebrate the best of cable access in this historic setting. All award recipients were great examples of the diverse and high quality work that can come out of community television.