The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued an updated guidance document detailing the control local authorities have to require cable companies “to set aside channels for public, educational or governmental (PEG) use.”
The document says “pursuant to Section 611 of the Communications Act” of 1934—which was amended by the Cable Communications Act of 1984 (PL 98-549) to include the PEG channel provision—“local franchising authorities may require cable operators to set aside channels” for PEG use.
However, PEG channels are not mandated by federal law, says the guidance document. “Rather they (PEG channels) are a right given to the franchising authority, which it may choose to exercise,” it says.
“The decision whether to require the cable operator to carry PEG channels is up to the local franchising authority. If the franchise authority does require PEG channels, that requirement will be set out in the franchise agreement between the franchising authority and the cable operator,” the FCC document says.
In addition, franchising authorities might also require cable operators “to set aside channels for educational or governmental use on institutional networks, i.e., channels that are generally available only to institutions such as schools, libraries, or government offices,” the document says.
Along with providing channels for PEG stations, “franchising authorities may require cable operators to provide services, facilities or equipment for the use of PEG channels,” the document says.
The document also says local franchising authorities or cable operators may adopt “non-content-based rules governing the use of PEG channels.” Such rules may cover:
- The allocation of broadcast time among competing applicants on a reasonable basis, other than the content of their programming
- Minimum production standards
- A user-training requirement
In addition, the updated document says the U.S. Supreme Court determined to be unconstitutional a federal law allowing cable operators to prohibit the use of a PEG channel for programming that contains obscene material, sexually explicit conduct, indecency, nudity, or material soliciting or promoting unlawful conduct. Because the law was deemed unconstitutional, cable operators may not control the content of programming on public access channels with the exception that the cable operator may refuse to transmit a public access program, or a portion of the program, which the cable operator reasonably believes contains obscenity, the document says.
The document also says a franchising authority can allow a cable operator to re-designate “PEG channel capacity that is not in use for its designated purpose” for other cable services. The franchising authority is directed “to prescribe rules governing when this use is permitted,” it says.