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Policy

PEG Fans Hit Comcast, AT&T

3/14/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

Backers of public, education and government (or PEG) channels took complaints about how such services are delivered by AT&T and Comcast to the Federal Communications Commission, as part of a request by PEG backers that the commission put such channels “on an equal footing” with basic commercial channels.

Public-interest group Free Press opined that putting PEG channels on an equal footing with commercial channels means cable systems “must pass through closed captioning and secondary audio programs when provided by PEG content producers; must offer PEG content through the same interface and service tier as other basic-cable channels, with no extra obstacles; and must deliver PEG content to the customer at the same video and audio quality as other basic-cable channels.”

Free Press asked the FCC to define AT&T’s U-verse service as a cable service subject to PEG requirements.

Four Michigan communities asked the FCC to rule on whether Comcast should have been able to move PEG channels to a digital tier there. They were among various groups seeking a declaratory ruling that Comcast should not be allowed to move the PEG channels off of the analog basic when it is not moving other channels. Michigan petitioners contended Comcast was “discriminating against PEG content” by, among other things, requiring consumers to obtain a digital converter in order to see the programming.

Comcast defended its PEG migration as part a larger transition of all channels to digital and said having PEG channels on a digital tier in Michigan was legal and in the public interest.

Keeping PEG channels on analog would be preferential treatment that would prevent Comcast from reclaiming bandwidth for new video services, more on-demand and high-definition programming and more diverse programming and faster Internet speeds. Those last two are priorities of the new Obama administration.

Comcast noted competitors DirecTV, Dish Network, Verizon Communications and AT&T are already all-digital and said Michigan’s video franchise-reform legislation gave cable operators more flexibility over locating PEG channels.

Several commenters criticized the quality of the PEG channels AT&T’s U-verse delivers, including the attorney general of Illinois, who said the U-Verse service “on Channel 99 provides inferior access to PEG programmers and viewers, results in inferior display and functionality, does not provide channel capacity, and does not display local emergency alerts on broadcast system programming.”

Columbus, Ohio, though, praised AT&T’s efforts to accommodate its PEG channels, and even praised the Web delivery that others have suggested translates to lower quality.

September