Southborough Selectmen OK New Nonprofit Cable Access

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Members of the Southborough Cable Access Committee listen as attorney Peter Epstein makes the case for a new nonprofit to run Southborough's public access television. Photo Credit: Bret Matthew

SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. — The Cable Access Committee will proceed with plans to form a nonprofit cable access organization following a favorable vote Tuesday night by the Board of Selectmen.

In a July 5 letter to the committee, Boston attorney Peter Epstein wrote that separate nonprofits "are the predominant model in the Commonwealth" for providing local programming — as opposed to Southborough's cable access, which is run by the town.

The main difference, Epstein explained, is that "you would have an independent access corporation. Its main focus would be producing programming. Initially, you're going to see far more programming."

Currently, the town's three cable providers (Verizon, Comcast and Charter) make monthly payments to the town that fund the three local access channels. Epstein said there are adequate funds for a nonprofit to produce more diverse programming.

"That's what people are paying for," he said. He suggested reaching out to residents who wish to learn how to produce their own shows, including students.

The nonprofit would have a five-member board of directors, though Epstein said only three — a president, a secretary and a treasurer — would be needed to get the board up and running. Cable Advisory Committee Chair Warren Palley and member Katelyn Willis both expressed confidence that the necessary board members could be found.

Selectmen Chairman John Rooney questioned whether these board members would have to be from Southborough. "We like to maintain local flavor," he said. Epstein replied that the selectmen could form an agreement with the board of directors regarding member eligibility.

Selectmen also expressed concern about how much control they would have over the proposed nonprofit, especially when it comes to monitoring offensive content.

Epstein said the selectmen would have limited control, but added that such problems are rare among the towns that have this arrangement.

"Sometimes you might see programming that you think is beyond the pale," Epstein said. "But remember, programming is subject to the First Amendment."

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