Origins of PCN
The Pennsylvania Cable Network was organized in 1979 as a nonprofit corporation by 11 Pennsylvania cable companies. Its original purpose was to provide a cable television network for the distribution of educational programming from Pennsylvania institutions of higher learning under the leadership of The Pennsylvania State University. PCN marked the first use of cable technology for distance learning, and was founded as the first educational television network in the nation. Educational programming on PCN was composed of college courses for credit, literacy training programs and general enrichment shows. These programs were organized by Penn State on behalf of participating state institutions of higher learning, a listing which includes the University of Pittsburgh, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and several community colleges.
Development of a Network
Until 1994, the interconnection of cable systems for the educational network was through microwave pathways. Using frequencies assigned by the Federal Communications Commission, programming on PCN was passed along from participating cable television system to participating cable system under a shared cost arrangement. The system consisted of an eastern loop and a western loop, which together made a “figure 8″ comprising 796 path miles. Although the system worked satisfactorily, there were inherent limitations in networking by microwave, notably in the time and process required to clear paths, and in the high incremental costs for providing service to outlying areas. As a result, PCN technicians were continually investigating alternate and supplemental interconnecting methods for the network. With initiatives undertaken in early 1993, PCN began distributing its signal using compressed digital satellite technology in December of that year. The new PCN delivery system–one of the first utilizations of compression technology for a cable network, and the first ever by a cable consortium–made the programming signal available throughout Pennsylvania and reduced both the cost and lead-time needed for cable companies to receive the signal.
Public Affairs Programming
Concomitant with its technical initiatives in the early ’90s, PCN–in consultation with participating cable companies–expanded its programming format to include nonpartisan public affairs coverage. This transition from “formal” to “citizen” educational offerings began with coverage of “Capitol for a Day” town meetings in 1992, and continued with the establishment of a Tuesday and Thursday night public affairs programming block in August 1993. Less than two years later, PCN was televising daily coverage of the state General Assembly as the “C-SPAN of Pennsylvania.” While live and unedited coverage of legislative activities and events is the focus of PCN public affairs programming, the network also televises events which showcase Pennsylvania business, history, culture and people. PCN has carried the Pennsylvania State Farm Show and Battle of Gettysburg anniversary events since 1995, and has aired walking tours of hundreds of manufacturing facilities in the Commonwealth. With its daily public affairs programming coverage and distribution of educational opportunities for state residents, PCN defines its mission as “A Cable Network Responsive to the Interests and Needs of Pennsylvania and its People.”
In August 1996, PCN ended its 17-year relationship with Penn State and assumed full responsibility for all programming and operations of the 24-hour-a-day network. The network continues its tradition of distributing literacy programs and exploring distance learning efforts, along with televising more than 100 hours weekly of public affairs coverage. By 1999, PCN’s subscriber count had surpassed two million households in Pennsylvania, with network availability on 100 cable systems–more than three times the number of systems that carried the nonprofit service prior to its satellite delivery and public affairs programming initiatives. PCN remains funded through a monthly fee paid by participating cable companies to cover network capital and operating costs, and receives no tax dollars. PCN is now recognized as the preeminent state public affairs network in the nation, and is one of the largest regional cable television news organizations in America. Among its many programming milestones, PCN is credited with the first live coverage of a Pennsylvania House hearing, the first telecast of Pennsylvania appellate court hearing, the most extensive coverage of a state election in television history, and the first statewide telecast of a regular-season Pennsylvania high school sporting event. The network’s support from the Pennsylvania cable television industry is strong and growing, as is true of the benefits inuring to Pennsylvania and its people.