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Cable Group: PEG Channel Loss a State Issue, But Most Operators Want PEG Channels

Federal law does not mandate cable companies provide PEG channels on their systems

An advocacy group for local cable providers says the loss of public, education and government (PEG) channels because of state franchising of cable operators is a state issue and the advocacy group is focused on federal issues, so it does not have an official position on those issues.

However, the leadership of the American Cable Association (ACA) tells Government Video that most small cable systems do seek to maintain their PEG channels, but some operators have been burdened by situations in which a single town can have from seven to 10 PEG channels.

While small cable providers have “limited resources,” most “work very closely” with the PEG channels, to provide those facilities with cable access, said Matthew Polka, ACA president who discussed the issue on March 14 at the ACA’s Summit in Washington.

Federal law does not mandate cable companies provide PEG channels on their systems, but the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 (P.L. 98-549) allows local cable franchise authorities to require cable operators to reserve some channels for PEG use.

However, during the past two decades 20 states have passed laws creating state franchise authorities that enable local cable systems to no longed have to deal with local franchise agencies, but with the states. Some of those laws have abrogated, or phased out, the PEG-related provisions in local franchise agreements requiring cable providers to set aside channels, provide financial support, and/or studio facilities to PEG broadcasters.

Robert Gessner, ACA vice chairman who is also the president of Massillon (Ohio) Cable TV, said Ohio is one of those areas where PEG channels were shut down in part because of state franchising. On Jan. 1, 2012, all PEG channel funding ended in Ohio, and the statewide law allows cable operators and telephone companies to charge communities for the transmission of those channels; those charges can reach $100,000 per year.

Small cable companies in Ohio opposed requiring an operator to fund PEG channels, especially when a competitor does not have to fund those channels, Gessner said. “The state (Ohio) basically accepted that argument,” which resulted in cuts in funding and to cable-broadcast resources, he added.

In addition, some cities had from seven to 10 PEG channels, causing providers to question requirements that 10, six-megahertz channels be reserved for PEG channel access, when a large number of those channels are duplicated, Gessner said. The cable providers wanted to recapture some of the spectrum required be provided to PEG channels, with the recaptured spectrum possibility used to add some high definition channels that would make the local cable system more competitive, he said.

However, while local providers might want to recapture some of the spectrum, they generally do not want to take it all back, Gessner added.Cable providers “love the content they [PEG channels] provide,” he said. The content “fits our role as local channels.” However, it is problematic with some of the larger operators who have requirements for multiple channels, he said. State franchising of cable systems has created changes that the cable operators are using, he said. Some states now do not require those operators to provide any PEG channels, and the operators “are taking advantage of those laws,” he said.