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Policy

Study Says PEGs Are Getting Pummeled

10/31/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — American Community Television
last week applauded a Congressional Research Service
report that lists numerous financial, policy and technological
obstacles facing public, educational and government
(PEG) channels.

Those hurdles include state budget cuts, statewide
franchising laws that have eliminated PEG requirements
and technological changes that have allowed the channels
to be combined into a single digital destination.

Cable operators are required by law to set aside PEG
channels if a locality or state makes that part of a franchise
agreement.

“The study lays out what we have been saying all
along,” John Rocco, president of American Community
Television, said. “PEG access television has been under
attack and is in desperate need of a congressional fix.”

The report said, “The environment for public, educational,
and governmental (PEG) cable channels is being
roiled by public policy and budgetary changes at
the federal, state, and local levels and by technological
changes in cable networks.”

The study reads like an ACT policy alert: “In recent
years, 20 states have enacted laws allowing cable systems
to obtain statewide franchises. Some of these laws
have abrogated or phased out PEG-related provisions in
local franchise agreements requiring the franchisees to
set aside channels, provide financial support, or provide
studio facilities. In addition, the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) has adopted rules that may limit
the amount of PEG financial support for non-capital costs
that local franchise authorities can require of cable providers.
Also, some local jurisdictions that have funded
PEG operations are now facing budget deficits that are
leading them to reduce or eliminate their PEG funding.”

It also points to the placement of PEG channels on subchannels
in a digital tier. “[S]ome cable operators have
begun to offer PEG channels in a fashion that may reduce
consumer access to, and the quality of, those channels,
and may raise consumer costs to obtain PEG channels.”

ACT has been very vocal on that issue, even pushing
for PEG conditions as part of the proposed, cellphone
service-centric merger of AT&T and T-Mobile.

The report also referred to the Community Access
Preservation Act (HR 1746), crafted by ACT and introduced
by Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.). The measure
now has 17 co-sponsors, according to the advocacy
group.

The bill, opposed by cable operators, would allow
states and localities to require cable companies to provide
at least 2% of their gross cable revenues in PEG support
and would prevent charging subscribers for digital
to receive PEG channels migrated from analog tiers.

CRS is a division of the Library of Congress that provides
research services to members of Congress.

September