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Panel Wants PEG Moves Probed

10/03/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

The House Appropriations Financial Services and General Services subcommittee this week asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the treatment of public, educational and government channels by both incumbent and new providers, especially AT&T U-verse.

The subcommittee, on Sept. 17, held a hearing on the status of PEG operations. In testimony then, FCC Media Bureau Chief Monica Shah Desai said that a complaint would prompt FCC action on issues raised at the hearing.

In a letter sent Sept. 30 to the FCC, subcommittee members expressed concern about incumbent operators that are digitizing and moving PEG channels from the lowest-numbered channels to slots as high as Ch. 999. Desai said at the hearing that federal law requires PEG channels to be placed on the basic-service tier along with broadcast channels. The additional burden of having to find a new PEG channel location “seems to defeat the purpose of the basic-service tier,” she said.

Asked to comment about the investigation request, NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz said the cable industry has long supported PEG programming and is committed to working with local governments to ensure that PEG channels remain available to customers. The NCTA looks forward to working with the subcommittee on the issue, he added.

The legislators also want the FCC to examine AT&T U-verse's PEG application. PEG supporters assert that the application is slow to load and is cumbersome as it aggregates all PEG channels in a region onto one menu that a consumer must search. Further, the content stream does not match the quality of commercial channels. Such features as second audio programming and closed captioning can't be used when viewing the U-verse PEG application.

In response to the subcommittee's letter, AT&T asserted in a letter that its PEG product meets needs expressed by local governments and is easily accessed by all U-verse subscribers. That said, the company also said it will introduce improvements within the next few months, including technology that will decrease load time to one to three seconds.

Because of U-verse's structure, content is collected at a regional video hub office, and there is no insertion point beyond that one, the letter said. Putting content on Ch. 99 regionally broadens the potential audience for PEG channels, according to the company. The uniform placement also means that consumers can find PEG easily when they move among U-verse markets.

September