An effort has been getting underway in Lynnfield that could greatly enhance the town's cable access TV services in the coming months.
Town resident Rich Sokolow was at the selectmen's meeting this week to discuss the current state of Lynnfield's Cable Access TV system, with an eye on moving toward creating a studio in Lynnfield. Federal law requires cable operators to provide some funds to their respective towns each year to run local access programming for public, educational and government purposes.
More information about this law, the Federal Communications Act of 1984, can be viewed here.
Sokolow recalled how his daughter's Girl Scout troop had visited the Peabody cable access studio on a field trip and had been very impressed by the facility. In Lynnfield, he added that although there is a small facility at the high school, "there is really no studio to speak of."
"Citizens of Lynnfield do not have the same ability... to get into this 21st Century medium," Sokolow told the selectmen.
Sokolow also estimated that the town has about $360,000 on hand from previous cable company local access payments. With that in mind, he proposed the creation of a nonprofit organization that would use the funds to manage an enhanced cable access system.
Selectman Al Merritt replied that since a cable access facility will not be immediately available anyhow, the matter would be better considered by an advisory group. "We all certainly agree we want to go in that direction," he added.
Town Administrator Bill Gustus observed that the challenge all along here has been the inability "to find an adequate space for a full-blown studio operation in our school buildings." A search for an affordable and compatible commercial space in town has also come up dry, in part because the required rents would have undermined programming capabilities. He went on to say that the most appropriate location for a Lynnfield studio would be in a school building, and that the district's superintendent, Dr. Thomas Jefferson, is "very keen" to begin building momentum on the educational portion.
In a phone conversation on Wednesday, Sokolow told Lynnfield Patch that a town cable access committee is now largely in place, and that Merritt is the liaison to the selectmen. The committee will work to develop some options for a studio location - a location that could in a school building, on town property, or even in some part of the upcoming Meadow Walk project. However, completion of that project is still relatively far away, and Sokolow indicated that the committee is "looking to get something now." The committee will also have to make decisions on equipment needs, lighting, and other details such as a control room and editing suite.
Much of the town's current local access system consists of covering things like town government meetings and LHS sports. "But it's certainly not living up to its potential," said Sokolow. "There's all kinds of programming that could be broadcast." For example, citizens with expertise in some area would be able to share their knowledge on their own local access show, while others may like to share their musical or entertainment talents or have a talk show. Students would also be able to work on projects and college applications there, he added."There's all kinds of programming that could be broadcast," he said.
Further, Sokolow also pointed out that after completion, a local access studio would be able to raise some revenues for itself by renting out space for events. One thing that local access studios cannot do to raise revenue is run paid commercials for businesses.
While the town currently uses some of its cable access money for equipment and staffing, "it's not doing what the act set out to be doing" when it comes to public, educational and government purposes. He estimated that the town receives about $150,000 per year in local cable access funds.
The town could eventually use that money for staff, utilities, rent and other related expenses for a cable access studio. "I think it will be a very, very popular place," said Sokolow.