Tragedy of the Commons

I can’t say I’m an unbiased voice in this, because I worked (several years ago now) at WCET-TV, a public access TV station that serves the Hudsonville, Georgetown/Jenison, and Grandville communities.

But this is something that has been going on for years, and I think given that there’s real video of the discussion within Georgetown now, it’s a good time to properly comment on the township’s lack of funding, and, frankly, ownership of the station.

If you watch the video, you can see one individual of Georgetown’s governing body ask that the township fund the station at a level comparable – per capita – to that of its co-owners, the cities of Grandville and Hudsonville. He makes a reasonable argument.

Another gentleman then counters his argument with points that, at face value, are also reasonable. But there’s a few inconsistencies, and I think it’s worth pointing them out.

He states that the station is running a surplus this year of $93,000. I don’t doubt that’s true, but it’s very likely that it’s not “unallocated” the way he states. If you’re familiar with the cost of film and video production, you know that $93,000 could buy you a couple pretty nice cameras, and that’s about it.

I don’t (currently) have inside knowledge, but knowing how these things have worked in the past, you typically allocate significant savings over the course of several years, so that you can do large upgrades all in one year. I’d bet that that current budget surplus represents a future upgrade to the studio or the mobile coverage truck that has yet to happen, simply because $93,000 isn’t enough to buy reasonable-quality production equipment that’s going to hold up over the several years it will take to buy the next round of new equipment.

The statement that you’d be “taking money from police and fire” to fund WCET-TV is an appeal to emotion. It’s a “support the troops” mentality – nobody wants to vote “against” police and fire. What’s more, it’s unfair to cable subscribers that they are effectively paying a little more on each cable bill into general services – that’s what taxes are for. If you want to effectively fund police and fire, then put a milage on the ballot and ask people to vote it. That is a completely separate issue from PEG and Franchise Fee funding of a community access station.

There are other good points here to make, but I think the biggest has to do with ownership. To me, the question isn’t how much is enough. The question is, why doesn’t Georgetown value this service enough to make it great?

Georgetown has the largest citizenry of the three communities contributing. They have the largest area to cover, and I’ll bet that a majority of the events covered by WCET-TV are relevant to Georgetown township residents. That means that it is absolutely fair for Georgetown to contribute a majority of funding – WCET-TV is not discriminatory. They don’t pick-and-chose which communities to cover based on who funds them more – they simply cover everything they feel the community finds valuable.

Georgetown residents certainly take advantage of this. One of the best shows on the station is the Georgetown Journal, which is hosted by Georgetown resident Gil Dykstra. The show is filmed weekly at WCET’s studio, and takes most of the station’s staff and volunteers to film every Monday. Look at the Sunday lineup, and tell me how many Georgetown churches you see broadcasting their services – there’s quite a few.

In the tragedy of the commons, three farmers share a field that is large enough to feed 30 cows. They all contribute to the maintenance, and thus each get to field 10 cows in the pasture. But eventually, one farmer is greedy, and fields an extra cow, while shirking his maintenance duties. In the long-term, all the farmers do the same, and you end up with 100 starving cows standing in a barren muck field.

Georgetown township is acting as the greedy farmer, and although Hudsonville and Grandville are still contributing admirably to the continued operation of WCET-TV, it won’t be that way forever. That’s the great thing about conservative politics – if they can do it, you can too.

So, residents of Georgetown, talk to your representatives and convince them that you want your franchise fees allocated at an equal percentage as that of Hudsonville and Grandville.  It’s fair, it’s right, and you won’t believe how much of an improvement you could see in quality of recording, broadcasting, and programming if WCET got the level of funding you could make happen.

This entry was posted in Insights. Bookmark the permalink.