WinCAM Director Wants Streaming Services Taxed
By Joyce Westner
August 3, 2023 – At a recent State House hearing, WinCAM Executive Director David Gauthier testified for the need to support local cable access TV as their revenues have been steadily decreasing. In 1984 Congress imposed a 5% tax on cable services using the argument that they were coming into homes and businesses over the municipalities’ infrastructure. This has been a source of revenue for local cable access TV.
According to Gauthier (shown above on the left), who is also president of MassAccess, the statewide organization for community access cable channels, as people cut their cable in favor of streaming services, there’s less money coming in to the local cable stations to tax, which means less revenue for local cable access TV. Gauthier says that across the state, cable channels have lost 15 to 30% of their income over the last five years. In Winchester in 2013 there were 7,473 subscribers, but by the end of 2022 there were 5,018 subscribers.
Proposed legislation (H.74 and S.34), which has more than 70 cosponsors, would add a 5% tax on streaming services and the funding would go toward “expenditures related to hybrid municipal meetings, data infrastructure improvements, school technology programs and more,” according to MassAccess.
The legislation was introduced by Winchester’s State Senator Jason Lewis and others. Both Republicans and Democrats support the legislation, and one Republican representative spoke at the hearings about why supporting local cable access channels is important. Republican Representative Mathew J. Muratore told the committee that during COVID, meetings could only be viewed on local channels. “That’s how town board meetings occurred,” said Muratore. “Government still had to function. They were able to do that through the local access stations.”
Gauthier added that local access channels have become the source of local government news now that local newspapers have disappeared. In Winchester, for instance, WinCAM broadcasts meetings of the Select Board and Planning Board, and having the staff and resources to do so requires income. The argument that many people watch these meetings on their phones doesn’t hold water for Gauthier since the costs are the same no matter how residents watch.
While detractors from various media companies argue that taxing streaming is a cash grab and that residents who no longer watch cable shouldn’t have to subsidize those who do, Gauthier said the proposed streaming tax makes perfect sense. “The exact same cables and the exact same infrastructure are being used to deliver different data,” he said. “Why should Comcast have to pay and Netflix not?”
Gauthier estimates that the 5% tax would be spread across streaming services and the average household might see a cost of about $2.40 a month so perhaps “75 cents for Amazon, 80 cents for Disney.”