Aldermen OK public access station

NASHUA – Public access television is coming to the city. Maybe.

The Board of Aldermen on Tuesday voted 11-4 to endorse a resolution that would create the public access station.

However, the vote was deceptively lopsided, as two aldermen who opposed the resolution going to a board vote ended up supporting the legislation as it became clear it would pass.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, the principal sponsor, said she couldn’t guarantee she would fund the channel in her budget if the board approved it.

Lozeau said the issue “merits a policy decision” by the board before she decides whether to include the $106,000 in her budget to fund the station.

Under federal law, municipalities have the right to require cable operators to make available what are known as PEG channels for public, educational or governmental use under their franchise agreements.

In Nashua, Channel 99 serves as the local educational channel, while Channel 16 carries local government programming, including public meetings.

However, the money for public access television has been channeled into the general fund to be used to reduce taxes.

Lozeau noted that there is no requirement that a city use the funds for PEG channels.

During the public comment period, Dennis Ryder of 17 Charles St. said “it’s pretty much implicit in the original federal law” that the money would be used to create the three channels.

Ryder was one of eight residents who spoke in support of creating a public access channel. Other speakers noted that the channel would be a public service that most communities provide.

No one spoke against creating a channel.

“The city of Nashua is a blackout where a P channel is concerned,” said Judy Hogan of 71 Watson St.

She produced a map that showed Nashua was the only community in southern New Hampshire and nearby portions of northern Massachusetts not to have a P channel.

Opponents on the Board of Aldermen raised concerns about the cost, content and regulation of the channel.

“I do believe there is a can of worms here we ultimately will have to deal with,” Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy said.

A P channel could expose the city to litigation if it attempts to restrict content, McCarthy said. The only exception is federal obscenity standards, and the channel manager – a position that would be created out of a portion of the $106,000 – would have to keep on top of applicable laws, he said.

“To be concerned is wise, but there’s no need to be fearful,” said Ward 8 Alderman Dave MacLaughlin.

MacLaughlin said he was the city council liaison to the public access channel in South Burlington, Vt. The channel’s programming was so popular that it competed for viewers with local network affiliates, MacLaughlin said.

Joining McCarthy in voting against the resolution were Aldermen-at-Large Lori Wilshire and Steven Bolton and Ward 5 Alderman Michael Tabacsko.

Ward 4 Alderman Marc Plamondon and Ward 9 Alderman Jeffrey Cox joined the other four in voting against taking the resolution out of committee for a board vote.

Alderman-at-Large David Deane moved to bring the resolution out of the budget review committee, which was in “gridlock” over the issue, he said.

Deane said he wanted the board to decide now whether it would support the resolution so the mayor would have time to include the funding in her proposed budget if she chose to do so.