Arkansas has become the latest state to approve state franchising of cable providers, but unlike other statewide franchising deals, Arkansas will require cable companies that negotiate a service agreement with the state to maintain existing public, education and government channels, but those companies can also deny requests for any new PEG channels.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) signed the Arkansas Video Service Act into law on March 6, and “Act 276” becomes effective July 1. In addition to Arkansas, such franchising has occurred in 20 other states, and of those states, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina and Wisconsin have eliminated all funding for PEG channels.
Under the provisions of Act 276, cable providers that have a franchise agreement with a “political subdivision”—a municipal government—within the state, can petition Arkansas’ secretary of state for “a certificate of franchise” within boundaries designated in the application.
If the state-franchising application is approved, the existing franchise agreement with the local government would be declared void, and the new agreement would be effective for 10 years.
In addition, Act 276 outlines the steps that must be taken by a cable provider that wants a franchise agreement with the state, and that includes dealing with PEG channels. The legislation says a video service provider, on the date that it first provides video service to a subscriber in the service area shall “designate a sufficient amount of capacity on its video service network to allow PEG channels for noncommercial programming.”
The cable provider will “allow up to three PEG channels, or channels equal in number to those that have been activated by an incumbent video service provider, if any, on the date that the video service provider first provides video service” to a community, “whichever is less.” That means the cable operator would have to provide three PEG channels, if the political subdivision listed in the state-franchise agreement already has three channels, but if it only has one channel, the cable operator would only be required to provide one PEG channel.
However, if the cable provider enters into an area that was “not served” by “an incumbent video service provider,” the new service provider would be required to reserve one channel for a PEG channel.
The service providers are also given the option of providing “PEG channels on a service tier that is subscribed to by more than 50 percent of a video service provider’s channel location;” consolidating “PEG channels to a single channel location;” and “provide PEG channels through an application on a menu, or as a choice on an assigned channel,” the legislation says.
Fritz Gisler, Fayetteville, Ark.’s government channel manager, says the legislation “will essentially cap the PEG channels at where they are now.” Fayetteville, which formally opposed the proposal when it was a bill, has three PEG channels that the city will be able to keep, he said.
However, the community of Springdale, Ark., which is near Fayetteville, only has one PEG channel, a government channel, Gisler said. “They will be able to keep their government channel, but they will not be able to get any more channels,” he said. “Even if the people of Springdale wanted to establish public access television, and they went to the cable operator and said we want another channel because our residents want a public access channel, the cable operator is going to say, ‘no, sorry, tough luck,’” he added.
Click here to access the legislation.