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Cable Industry Entities Seek Revisions to PEG Channel Report

The report is critical of how some cable providers are treating public, education and government (PEG) broadcasters.

Some cable industry entities are seeking revisions to a recent report produced by a federal research agency that serves the U.S. Congress and that is critical of how some cable providers are treating public, education and government (PEG) broadcasters, the author of the report tells Government Video.

Charles Goldfarb, a specialist in telecommunications policy for the Congressional Research Service (CRS) who wrote the report, Public, Educational and Government (PEG) Access Cable Television Channels: Issues for Congress, says he has received initial “communications” from the cable industry in which “fresh information” on the PEG channel situation has been discussed. “There has certainly been interest in this issue on all sides,” he said

However, while Goldfarb has received communications on the report, he says he has not met with the representatives of any one stakeholder involved. “I’ve not met with anyone, but I’m always open to that [new information] if someone feels there’s information that I didn’t look at,” he said. Such new information could lead to revisions of the report “if there were some reason to rewrite it,” he said.

The report—which was issued Oct. 7, 2011—says Federal law does not mandate cable companies provide PEG channels, but the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 (P.L. 98-549) allows local cable franchise authorities to require cable operators to set aside channels for PEG use.

However, during the past few years a score of states have passed laws allowing cable systems to go from local franchises to statewide franchises. Some of those laws have abrogated, or phased out, the PEG channel-related provisions in local franchise agreements that require cable providers to set aside channels, provide financial support, and/or studio facilities to PEG broadcasters.

Further, it seems cable providers do not want to tie up their broadcast streams with what is deemed as less popular programming, including PEG channels, so some companies are providing PEG channels only on digital tiers that require subscribers with analog televisions to have a set-top box with digital-to-analog converter for reception. Some cable operators are providing the boxes free, while others are charging for the devices which some PEG advocates say is inconsistent with the terms of local franchise agreements and the Communications Act. PEG advocates say such an approach is “systematic discrimination against PEG programming in terms of accessibility, functionality and signal quality.” In addition, the Federal Communications Commission has adopted rules that might limit the amount of financial support for PEG cannels the local franchise authorities can require of cable companies, the report says.

Since the report was issued, the CRS—which Goldfarb stresses is neutral—has received communications from both PEG and cable representatives indicating “they have fresh information, and I’m always happy to have someone provide me with information.”

In addition, if the CRS “were to find that something was questionable” in the report, “we would obviously make revisions,” he said.