Michelle Monroe, St. Albans Messenger
ST. ALBANS — Six Franklin County towns currently without public access television, will become part of Northwest Access Television (NWA-TV) this year.
Bakersfield, Berkshire, Enosburgh, Fairfield. Montgomery and Richford will receiving NWA-TV channels 15 and 16 in July, according to Northwest Access Executive Director Elizabeth Malone.
The towns have been without public access service since Comcast purchased North Country Cablevision in 2008. Although North Country was not required to offer public access because of its small size, the family that owned it chose to offer some public access programming, explained Malone.
That service included live broadcast of some church services, which will continue under NWA-TV, as it was part of the contract between Comcast and North Country, she added.
Public access offers a number of services to the communities it serves, starting with the recording of all meetings of school directors and selectboards, which are then broadcast on Channel 16. For a fee, boards also can take advantage of NWA-TV’s video hosting service to have recordings of their meetings made available online.
Northwest Access also broadcasts local sports events. It plans to record and place online four basketball games between Enosburg Falls and Richford high schools during the current season, said Malone. “We want to build excitement,” she said.
“We’re open to ideas for other projects,” said Malone.
One of the hallmarks of public access is its openness. Any resident can borrow equipment and record a program. As long as it doesn’t violate broadcast rules, public access will air it.
“We’re open to anyone using our cameras,” said Malone.
NWA-TV also offers training for schools, non-profit agencies and residents for use of its equipment. For example, Franklin County Home Health, Northwestern Medical Center and Northwestern Counseling and Support Services all offer programs on Northwest Access. St. Albans City School students also record their own program.
One of the advantages of the expansion, in Malone’s view, is that it will allow residents in the six new towns to view the programs created by county-wide organizations such as Franklin County Home Health.
The Cold Hollow Career Center has agreed to host a satellite studio. Staff and cameras will be available at the site, although the staff person will be part-time at first. NWA-TV also will add videographers to film meetings in the new towns. “We’re pretty much doubling the number of boards we’re covering,” Malone said.
NWA-TV’s sports coverage is focused on high school sports, but anyone can come in and borrow a camera to film a local sporting event, which NWA-TV will then air. “By using volunteers, we can have many more shows,” said Malone.
Malone is hoping the expansion will bring more arts programming to NWA-TV, such as the music performances and original plays produced at the Enosburg Falls Opera House.
The eastern portion of the county “has a lot more of an artsy feel to it,” said Malone. “We’re excited to add that.”
For the past three years, NWA-TV has been host to Northwest Nightmares, a festival for locally made short films. The films are shown first at the Welden Theater in St. Albans, and then broadcast on Channel 15. “That’s a good example of the public side of what we do,” said Malone.
The expansion will also bring NWA-TV’s political coverage to six more communities, including candidate forums and debates. “We’ve been doing county-wide debates forever,” said Malone, “but only one-third of the county could see them.”
Since Comcast purchased North County Cablevision community groups have tried to start a public access station to serve those towns. However, it takes a lot of work to first form a non-profit and then work with Comcast to start a TV station from scratch, said Malone. “You have to negotiate with the world’s largest media company,” she added.
NWA-TV also wanted to expand to cover the Enosburgh area, but it was only during negotiations with Comcast in 2014 that it learned technological changes meant it would no longer have to operate an entirely separate system to serve those towns, explained Malone. The change made expansion cost-effective.
Changes must still be made to the cable lines to make it possible for NWA-TV to be seen in the new towns, said Malone, which is why NWA-TV won’t be available in the new towns until July.
In the meantime, Tim Stetson of Enosburgh has joined the NWA-TV board.
Malone encouraged anyone with ideas for shows in the new towns to contact NWA-TV at 527-6474, or through their Web site (www.northwestacess.tv).