Cable television originated in 1949 as a way of providing good reception to areas where the conventional TV signal was weak, usually due to mountains or tall buildings blocking the broadcast signal. In 1963, because the telephone company would not let its poles be used for cable television, the State of Connecticut took over the regulation of cable television as a public utility. The State was broken into twenty (20) franchise areas beginning in 1967, but legal issues (e.g. appeals by local TV, cable, slow FCC rulings) delayed availablity until 1973. Branford is within the franchise area currently referred to as the Comcast/Branford franchise and includes six (6) other towns: Wallingford, North Haven, East Haven, North Branford, Guilford and Madison. When cable TV debuted within this franchise area, the company was known as Community TV Systems. Over the years, due to the company being sold, it was known later as Rollins CableVision, Heritage Cablevision, TCI Cablevision, AT&T Broadband, and now, Comcast.
Connecticut's regulatory policy is governed by the intent to provide every resident the opportunity for cable television. In the 1970's, the Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC) ruled that new cable companies, in order to receive what's known as a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) (franchise certificate) must have public access channel(s) and provide a reasonable level of support for those channels. This policy was promulgated in part by Branford's own State Representative, Ruth Clark.
In 1973, Community TV Systems (CTS) became Branford's first franchise holder. Rollins Cablevision purchased CTS, and continued to expand the system. Branford was originally assigned two specific channels (32 and 33) for public, educational and governmental access.
One organization had to be designated as the local public access authority. In 1973, Branford Cable Access Board was established by the Branford Representative Town Meeting (RTM) with the following: Ruth Clark, Bob Hale, Mitch Laska, Peter Mullen, Jim Rocqui and Friskie Sweitzer (aka Wheeler). Hale and Laska were were representatives of the Board of Education; Peter Mullen was with the fire department. The Board's mandate was to oversee the construction of cable lines and to facilitate the activation of Branford's public access programming over its public access channels. This Commission, with its members appointed by the First Selectman, continued into the early 1990's. Considerations regarding funding and the creation of public access programming free of politics, led the committee to recommend that public access be reformed from a town appointed commission to a non-profit independent corporation.
In June, 1993, the RTM approved the transfer of public access oversight to Branford Community Television, Inc. (BCTV), a private, non-profit corporation. BCTV continues as a private non-profit corporation to the present.
The DPUC mandates that all cable TV companies provide a reasonable level of support for the public access channels in their franchise area. The exact amount is decided at franchise renewal time, as well as by the DPUC in annual adjustments for inflation. BCTV delegates testified at the DPUC hearings, arguing, sometimes successfully, that public access television should receive more support from the cable franchise that was increasing its charges to the public.
In 1993, additional funds were generated directly from a check-off on the bills that cable subscribers received, but that process was discontinued as the cable companies found it too cumbersome.
Branford's funding continues to come from the cable franchisee, but the amount is now allocated per subscriber, as described in the franchise agreement. All franchise funds are directly disbursed to each of the respective officially-recognized P.E.G. access TV groups within the seven-Town Comcast/Branford franchise.
The BCTV Board of Directors is currently exploring a role for sponsorships and grants, consistent with the DPUC and our bylaws.
CABLECASTING and THE BCTV STUDIO
During the late 70's into the 80's, public access cablecasting (channels 32 and 33) were run from the Branford firehouse, with thanks to the special availability of one of the dispatchers, John Maturo, and under the leadership of Peter Mullen. Reel-to-reel, 1/2 inch black & white tapes were used until 1983, when the tapes were switched to 1/2 inch VHS. The by-laws of the Branford public access channels described the equipment as belonging to the Fire Department, and the Fire Department had priority in scheduling equipment.
It was Craig Newton, appointed to Branford Cable Access Advisory Board, who was critical in obtaining space in the Canoe Brook Community Center for BCTV. During the 80's and into the 90's, the programming and public access cablecasting of channels 32 and 33 originated from the basement of Canoe Brook. The educational access channel (32) was run out of the Walsh Intermediate School, and the government access channel was run from Town Hall. In the 1990's, the delivery systems improved to direct fiber optic connections, providing improved signal clarity, and, in August 1993, a third access channel (20) was added. The P.E.G. channel assignments were moved from 32, 33 and 34 to 18, 19 and 20. It was Art Scharf and Leona Peterson who were instrumental in having more Town meetings taped and cablecast.
However, there was no studio for the creation of public access programming in the 1980's and 1990's. During that time, the camcorder was developed, which encouraged the creation of home videotaping and BCTV's equipment was available, on loan, to programming producers. Branford video enthusiasts, working with what is now technologically primitive equipment, provided programming for the public access channels. In 1991, TCI Cablevision gave BCTV access to its studio for training and production. However, most programs were produced off site with occasional attempts to "create" a studio in Canoe Brook.
In 2005, after many years of dreaming and planning, BCTV opened a broadcast and production studio at 40 Kirkham Street. Since August, 2005. all cablecasting for channels 18 and 20 and much program production comes from those new studios at 40 Kirkham Street in Branford. On October 24, 2008, all three BCTV channels were also added to the lineup of AT&T U-Verse, thus allowing BCTV to be viewed by all AT&T U-Verse subscribers throughout Connecticut on channel 99. In December, 2009, BCTV moved to a larger space on the main floor in the same building at 40 Kirkham Street. The move and outfitting of the new, larger studio was made possible in part by a grant from the State of Connecticut, as well as support from the Town of Branford, and the Visiting Nurse Association (Lifetime Solutions).
During the late 70's and early 80's, there was public interest in expanding from the traditional means of expressions (letters, media, public forums). The development of consumer camcorders, in the late 70's and early 80's, led to the ease of video production. Public access television became a means for the public to produce, communicate and speak openly without violating the three P's (profanity, pornography and profit).
The local newspapers began to print a schedule of programs airing on BCTV. Examples of early producers and their programming include:
*Peter Mullen, training officer of the Branford Fire Department, ran training programs for all his volunteers and taped Town meetings.
*Ernst Weber, a local artist, created Oasis D'neon, a regular program during the early 1980's.
*Frank Twohill, a member of the RTM and one of the early directors of BCTV, videotaped a trip to England and did a "Live from The Branford Green" each year during the Branford Festival.
*David Anderson produced tapes from the Land Trust.
*Doug Amman did high school sports broadcasts on Monday evenings.
By 1984, the First Selectman meetings were taped and cablecast every Sundday evening.
Since 1983, church services from four or five congregations have been cablecast each Sunday (first Trinity and then First Congregational Church).
A website was created, www.BranfordTV.org, to provide information about BCTV, to encourage participation in its activities and to inform the public about BCTV and community access television in general.
As a non-profit group, BCTV attracted many residents. Volunteers were the backbone of the station, running the broadcast tapes, assisting in production and providing training and administration.
Debby Casey trained volunteers and ran the station from 1986 to 1998, and produced various programming.
Kurt Spitzner took over in 1988 from whom Keith Spaar learned about taping meetings and running the station.
In December, 1994, the Board hired Kerry Johnson and her father, Gordon Johnson the following May as Program Coordinator for part-time technical help.
In January, 2000, with the growth of BCTV, the description for a Station Manager (part-time) was developed and several people served in that position. Walter Mann has been the Station Manager since December, 2005.
Selected sampling of BCTV Board Members over the years:
Branford Community Access Advisory Board: Craig Newton, Chair, Jack Ahern, Teresa Bratten, Deborah Casey, Margot Hardenbergh, Ed Kelsey, Mitch Laska, Diane McGuire (resigned), Friskie Sweitzer.
Branford Community Access Advisory Board: Craig Newton, Chair, John Case, Jack Gambardella, Margot Hardenbergh, Mitch Laska, Peter Mullen, Art Scharf, Keith Spaar, Kurt Spitzner, and Friskie Sweitzer (Wheeler).