Community Media is a local platform for communication. It fills a unique niche in the media landscape, providing communities with the opportunity to create programs of local interest to broadcast on cable television,the internet and sometimes Low-Power Radio

In Wisconsin, media centers are typically managed by local governments or school districts and sometimes by a non-profit organization. Because of this, these centers are very sensitive to the needs of their communities. While you can search through millions of YouTube videos for programs from around the world, community media centers produce and distribute videos of interest to your town all in one place.

How to Watch Community Programs

Community Media Centers in Wisconsin broadcast on the local cable television provider(s) such as Charter Spectrum, AT&T U-Verse, TimeWarner, local cable systems. Most stations also have video-on-demand either on their website or on YouTube as well as live streams. Satellite providers DO NOT carry community media in Wisconsin, nor do they contribute to the funding of the centers in any way.

Find your local media center to watch content produced for your area!

Making community media better

The Benton Foundation did a study of community television in 2007 called, "What's Going on in Community Media." Benton sought input on key aspects of community media practice, with the goal of understanding how community media can be sustained, strengthened, and expanded. The scan research focused on four key areas of inquiry:

  • What are the unique characteristics that distinguish community media?
  • What makes media-community collaborations successful?
  • What types of community media organizations best leverage new technologies?
  • How might community media engage underserved populations in programming tailored to their needs?

Who watches community media?

The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) commissioned a study by Connie Book in 2003 that American Community Television quoted in this piece, Viewership and PEG Access Channels. In this article, Are Community Media Programs Competitive Against Commercial Shows? John Foust takes a look at how competitive community programs are against commercial programming.

Listing of community media centers:

McCausland's U.S. Community Access TV Providers (crowdsourced document)

History of Community Media

Community Media (First called Community Television or "PEG" Television) has been around since the late 1960s and has a long proud history of providing a platform for local communications. Records show one of the first Comminity Television Stations becan in Stoughton, WI under the control of the cable company "Viking Media Corp." and began broadcasting out of Downtown Stoughton in 1968. This makes our member WSTO TV one of the oldest operating community media centers in the United States. If you'd like to read some early history about "access," read The History of Public Access Television. (Author: Bill Olson (c) 2000).

Types of Media Centers:

There are three main types of media centers, but many access centers manage more than one type


Public Access Media Centers

Public Access Media Centers are typically managed by non-profits, local governments or (very rarely) cable companies in Wisconsin. Some Community Media Centers train residents to produce programming and increasingly, they are also teaching residents how to navigate through the new world of social media. These centers pride themselves on helping residents and organizations with the technical aspects of program production.  Public access programming ranges from music to issues discussion.  Public access is a great platform for local business, local non-profit organizations, issues discussion, and the arts.


Educational Access Media Centers

These are managed by educational institution, frequently the local school district or in conjunction with other types of centers. These centers provide school-age youth the opportunity to learn about media by doing media.  Classes include media literacy, video production, computer graphics, script-writing, and journalism.  Besides showcasing student-produced finished video productions, schools use these channels to recognize the work of students from science fairs to dramatic skits.  School Board Meetings are frequently produced.


 Government access Media Centers

These centers are generally managed and programmed by local governments.  If you want gavel-to-gavel coverage of meetings, learn about the latest street renovations, find out about economic development plans for downtown, or hear about regional collaborative efforts, this is the place to look.


Video providers such as Charter, AT&T or Time-Warner pay a 5% franchise fee on the company's video revenues to the city they serve. This fee reimburses the people of the community for use of the rights-of-way to do business.Many cities use all or part of this fee to fund community media. Others use this fee for other city priorities.

Until early 2011 approximately 30 communities also received a dedicated monthly fee from subscribers called a PEG (public, education, and government) fee.  This fee ensured stations would have funding for equipment -- and some stations, like Madison's WYOU, Wausau Area Access Channels, West Allis Community Media, and Chippewa Valley Community Television also negotiated with companies to use this fee for operating costs.  This funding mechanism was eliminated in January 2011 as a consequence of the passage of Wisconsin's State Cable Franchise Law, the state legislation that restructured how video service providers do business in Wisconsin.  As a consequence, Wausau's station downsized dramatically, West Allis's public access station has closed entirely, and WYOU is volunteer run and operating with technical assistance from the Madison City Channel and the Centeral Madison Library. Chippewa Valley Community Television the access station based in Eau Claire, has had to heavily cut back their public access services -- those that serve individuals in the community.

Community media centers often hold fundraising events, such as telethons and chicken dinners.  Local businesses support community media by underwriting some programs. Some stations sell time on their community bulletin boards or in between programs. Some even offer infomercial type programming for a fee. Most centers also sell DVD copies of the programs they produce. Stations also earn money by offering training courses to people interested in learning to produce their own videos. Others require membership in the center to those who would simply like the station to distribute their content. All of these efforts, however, cannot fund a fully-functioning television station.

What is the franchise fee?

This is a fee added to your monthly cable bill based on a 5% percentage of the video portion of your bill. It is paid to your city. Your city decides how to spend it. It becomes "general revenue" to offset property taxes. Your city may decide to support your community media center with some of this revenue. This is appropriate since the funds are collected from cable subscribers.  Companies pay this fee to cities because of the value they receive from using city streets and easements for their cable plant.  This fee is paid to all members of the community for using public property for private commercial gain.

What are "PEG fees"?

Since the 1980s federal law has allowed cities to include an additional fee on your monthly cable bill as a direct method of supporting your community media center. However, Wisconsin eliminated this funding mechanism in January 2011 as a consequence of the passage of Wisconsin Act 42, the state legislation that restructured how video service providers can do business in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, this law decreased funding for community television, increased our expenses, and made it harder to find community television on cable. The Full Disclosure Network® presents a six minute preview of a four-part special Documentary series featuring prominent luminaries and civic leaders who describe reasons why they have joined the battle ahead to bring back public access channels in L.A.