FCC calls for comments on complaints from PEG programmers

Virtually all cable systems are required to carry public, educational and governmental (PEG) channels. These are the channels where you find an assortment of city council meetings, homework help sessions, coverage of local festivals and other home-grown programming. The FCC recently invited comments on three separate petitions for declaratory ruling regarding PEG-related carriage issues.

As useful, charming and informative as PEG programming can be, cable operators hardly rank PEG channels up with ESPN, CNN or The Food Network as “must-have” content. Go figure. But Congress has directed that cable systems must carry the PEG channels on their basic tiers, which puts the cable folks in something of a spot.  Recently, a number of cable operators have developed creative ways to fulfill – or at least arguably fulfill – their PEG obligations, while still freeing up channels for other purposes. Some of those methods have drawn the ire of PEG access organizations.

The Alliance for Community Media leads a group of more than a dozen petitioners protesting the approach taken by AT&T on its U-verse systems. Basically, AT&T puts all the PEG programming under Channel 99. After getting to Channel 99, a viewer navigates through a couple of selection screens to get to the desired PEG channel. The petitioners complain that the AT&T “PEG product”, besides being a hassle to navigate, delivers a lousy picture and strips off closed captioning and any secondary audio programming. In a separate pleading, the City of Lansing, Michigan, has voiced similar concerns with the U-verse method.

The third petition, filed by three Michigan communities (including darling Dearborn), asks the FCC to rule whether Comcast’s plan to carry all PEG channels only in a digital format is legal. Comcast’s proposed arrangement would mean that analog subscribers could get the PEG channels only if they were to get a converter box from Comcast.

The proceeding is dubbed MB Docket No. 09-13. Comments on the petitions are due March 9, with the reply comment deadline following on March 24. 

If you would like to weigh in on these issues, let us know if we can be of any assistance.