Supporters of Community Access Network Television (CAN TV) have launched an online petition aimed at securing funding support for the network, which they believe is threatened due a hiccup in an agreement with cable provider RCN.
The issue is one that hits home for many in the LGBT community as the network is regularly used by a host of LGBT and AIDS advocacy groups.
Cable providers like RCN are legally required to include public access stations in their cable packages. But in June, RCN's franchise ran out. It was temporarily renewed until Sept. 30. Since then, it has been operating without a franchise and without an official deal with CAN TV.
According to Barbara Popovic, executive director at CAN TV, RCN has not funded CAN TV since June, a loss that totals approximately $150,000, she said.
"The critical mass issue here is what this is going to look like in the future," said Popovic. "The concern here is that we're entering a time of great change."
Popovic and others worry if they don't get a fair deal with RCN, a bad precedent will be set when other cable contracts come due in the next few years. If CAN TV cannot get RCN to pay, and pay on time, they say, the chances are poor that larger cable companies will be held accountable.
Windy City Times attempted to contact RCN both through its website and through an email provided by the company, but neither yielded a response.
CAN TV supporters launched a change.org petition last week asking that the city lean on RCN to complete the agreement.
One who has been vocal on the issue is longtime LGBT activist and 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney.
"He is in full support of an acceptable deal for CAN TV," said Max Bever, a spokesperson for Tunney's Office.
Tunney was one of 46 aldermen to send a letter to RCN in September, urging the company commit to a fair deal with CAN TV.
Bever said that Tunney's office is also open to holding a public forum on the issue.
LGBT groups who currently use CAN TV have also jumped into the fray for CAN TV.
The Association of Latino Men for Action (ALMA) alerted its members to the RCN issue and say they will testify on behalf of the network if necessary.
"CAN TV is really a critical resource in terms of getting information out around our community," said Julio Rodriguez, executive director of ALMA. "You just never know who will catch it and what kind of impact you're going to have."
Rodriguez remembers a caller to the ALMA show last year who said he had been thinking of committing suicide. ALMA was able to provide him with resources and support on-air.
ALMA puts on their program as part of a shared rotating slot called "LGBT Issues." The show airs Fridays 6:30-7 p.m.
Over the years, several LGBT groups have come to rely on CAN TV as a means of getting their message out.
According to Tiffany Bosley, who works with nonprofits at CAN TV, the network has hosted LGBT-relevant programs for more than a decade. It also regularly covers LGBT events.
"The great thing about CAN TV is that we're not going to edit anything that they say," Bosley said. "It's a great way for them to connect to people."
In addition to providing space for LGBT groups, CAN TV has been hosting an AIDS call-in program, run by the Chicago Department of Public Health and facilitated by CALOR, Howard Brown Health Center, Project VIDA and Chicago House, among others.
Bosley said that CAN TV has done outreach to LGBT groups specifically when participation waned.
Six years ago, the network approached Gay Liberation Network about doing a show, said GLN co-founder Andy Thayer. Thayer said it has helped his organization to start conversations with people it would never otherwise interact with.
"It allows us to reach into neighborhoods that don't have a visible [LGBT] presence," said Thayer. "It gets us out of the North Halsted Street confines."
Thayer and GLN have also asked their members to sign the petition in support of an RCN deal with CAN TV.
Organizations outside the LGBT community have been active in the conversation surrounding the agreement, too. A handful of CAN TV supporters formed the Committee for Media Access last year, a group that has been advocating for CAN TV since.
Among their members is Wanda Avila, executive director of La Famila Unida, an organization dedicated to mental health services. Avila said that awareness is needed around the role of CAN TV in what it provides for the city.
"It really is a community voice," Avila said. "It we don't have that different type of media, some of the issues are not brought to the people who might not otherwise pay attention."
Overall, Popovich estimates that RCN funding accounts for approximately 25 percent of CAN TV's budget. The network has been running a deficit budget for the past few years, she said.
More than 200 people have signed the petition in support of an RCN deal for CAN TV. Organizers are hoping to collect 500.