In the early 1990s a small group of concerned community members and media activists organized for better Community Access in Chapel Hill. In 1996 Robert Gwyn, Eva Metzger and Vimala Rajendran signed the incorporation papers that created The People’s Channel (TPC) as a non-profit organization. The founders helped organize public support for a community-run organization, responsive to community needs, to be the operator of public access for Chapel Hill. Previously, Time Warner Cable had been the operator, but community members wanted a local organization to be guardian of such an important community resource.
The founders participated in many public hearings with Chapel Hill, utilizing the 1984 Cable Franchise Policy and Communications Act, which allowed local governments to require channel space and funding for Public, Educational, and Governmental (PEG) channels as part of the cable franchise agreements municipalities sign with cable television companies. After a long struggle, many meetings, and much hard work, Time Warner Cable agreed to give $80,000 as start up capital for equipment and to add a “Public Access” fee to each cable bill in Chapel Hill to fund the operations. Volunteers and supporters worked for many months to build and design the facility and in May of 1998, The People’s Channel opened its doors and went live on Channel 8.
Since then, the channel has grown steadily. In 2005, TPC signed a contract with Orange County to manage their Government Access Channel, 265, and Orange County Government TV was born. From 2005-07, TPC faced a legislative effort from AT&T and Time Warner, who wanted to re-write legislation governing the regulation of cable television in NC. Through a statewide effort of PEG channels and concerned citizens, channels funding and channel capacity were protected. However, cable deregulation hit especially hard in Durham, where public access TV almost went dark in January of 2007. Through nearly two years of working with faith based organizations, community groups and concerned community members, the City of Durham and Durham County agreed to separate the shared Government and Public Access Channel 8 once operated by Time Warner and create a new Public Access channel. In 2009, The People’s Channel signed a contract with the City of Durham to manage the new Public Access Channel 18. This contract created Durham Community Media. In 2015, Durham Community Media became The People’s Channel – Durham.
The media landscape has changed drastically since the formation of TPC, though the organization continues to keep up with the latest digital video technology and continues to expand its offerings and its place in the community. TPC offers a place for all community members to have low-cost access to television production and ensure effective uses of community media.
The People’s Channel’s mission is to advance democratic ideals by giving area residents and local non-profits an avenue to share their ideas, news and views, and to exercise free speech rights. The training and equipment available at TPC help individuals and organizations to make cultural, informational, entertainment, or educational media productions of interest to our community.