Public-access television

Public access television is a cable television service that allows members of the public to use a cable company's facilities and equipment to create and broadcast their own content. This service is provided to the public free of charge on a first-come, first-served, non-discriminatory basis, and there are very lax censorship rules. However, funding for public access is typically very limited, so material broadcast on such channels is often of very low quality. Even so, public access TV can be an important outlet for the interests of underserved groups within a community. Occasionally, terrestrial (over-the-air) broadcasters also provide time for public access programming.

Public access is one of the main types of local origination services from cable TV providers. Related to public access are government and educational access, and also leased access television, which allows for programming of a more commercial nature.

One of the most famous public access programs is an entirely fictitious one, Wayne's World, which was a sketch on Saturday Night Live that later became a movie. Some public access channels carry nationally-distributed programs. A good example of this would be Free Speech TV's Democracy Now!, which airs in many places across the United States.

Occasionally, public access shows gain enough of a following for local broadcasters to take notice, and some shows have ended up going over the airwaves in their communities. A PBS program called Mental Engineering claims to be the first American show to originate on public access TV, find its way to a local station, and finally end up being broadcast nationally over the air. It started at the public access channel of Saint Paul, Minnesota, was picked up by KTCA, and had an episode broadcast across the U.S. after Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002.

Cable access television is a general term covering a number of special services provided by cable television companies to communities in the United States. There are several other names for this, including local origination, community access and PEG access (short for public, educational, and government access). Cable companies are required to provide these services at a certain level, though the amount of locally-produced programming varies from area to area.

Local governments, educational institutions, and, to a certain extent, commercial entities have rights to the cable system along with the general public. Educational access is used for providing educational material while also allowing area schools to broadcast special events ranging from concerts to school board meetings. Government access is used to broadcast city council meetings and other municipal events and activities. Across the U.S., more than 20,000 hours of public, educational, and government access programming is produced each week.

Leased access is used largely for advertising. Time on those channels can often be purchased by businesses outside of the local area.

Different municipalities have varying contracts with the local cable companies. Depending on the size of the community being served and the contractual agreement between a municipality and the cable provider, these different access types may all be combined into a single channel, or they may be split across several. There have been some controversial moves made in certain areas across the country, where local programming is outsourced to an entity other than the cable provider. Often, this squeezes the amount of time available for public access programming.

A notable cable access success story is Tom Green, whose guerilla gross-out comedy first appeared on Ottawa's Rogers Cable access channel.

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