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AT&T Knocked for 'Inferior' PEG Channels

The Internet-based technology AT&T touts as giving it an edge over the cable industry was criticized this week by the Alliance for Community Media as providing an “inferior” platform for public, educational and government channels.

The ACM, which represents some 3,000 PEG organizations, singled out AT&T’s U-verse TV PEG access as “sub-par, low resolution [and] cumbersome” in testimony at a Jan. 29 meeting of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

“PEG channels are confined to a separate system inferior to commercial channels on AT&T’s system in virtually every way that matters to a viewer,” said Annie Folger, executive director of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Midpeninsula Media Center, representing the ACM.

Among the deficiencies Folger cited: AT&T’s PEG channels do not allow closed-captioning; the telco’s own digital video recorders cannot record the PEG channels; video resolution is as much as 25% lower than commercial channels; and the channels take anywhere from 45 to 90 seconds to load.

On the lack of closed-captioning, ACM executive director Anthony Riddle said in a statement that AT&T’s “willingness to sacrifice the needs of disabled students in a race for profit certainly makes them the poster child of corporate irresponsibility.”

AT&T executive director of public affairs Michael Balmoris said in an e-mail that the telco is “continuing to evaluate this issue.” Currently, he said, the U-verse PEG platform provides “open captioning” that embeds text within the video stream (meaning that captions are visible to all viewers).

AT&T delivers PEG programming differently from the way it delivers commercial TV channels over its Internet Protocol TV network. Instead of assigning dedicated channel numbers to individual PEG programs, U-verse TV provides all community-access programming on channel 99.

AT&T Michigan president Gail Torreano, speaking at the House subcommittee meeting, said that by aggregating PEG access under one channel number, “all U-verse customers will know exactly where to go for the available PEG programming in their area.”

An application in the U-verse set-top is able to access multiple streams of PEG programming, which is encoded “in the digital form widely used for delivery over the public Internet,” according to AT&T.

But Balmoris disputed the charge that the PEG channels on U-verse TV are substandard.

“We haven't had any subscribers complain about PEG quality,” he said. “While there are technical aspects of our delivery of PEG programming that differ from our delivery of some other programming, the feedback from our customers is that the product meets or exceeds their expectations.”

At the same time, Balmoris added: “We will soon be making further enhancements to the product that will improve picture quality and the speed and responsiveness of the application.”

Balmoris said AT&T is looking at options to enable U-verse TV DVRs to record PEG channels. Torreano, in her testimony, noted that U-verse TV subscribers who connect a third-party DVR – such as a TiVo – to the service would be able to record PEGs.

Separately, Folger on Tuesday criticized Comcast for “channel-slamming,” in which the operator has relocated PEG channels to unfamiliar locations on short notice.

At the House subcommittee meeting, Comcast executive vice president David Cohen apologized that the operator did not “communicate adequately” its plan to move PEG channels in Michigan to digital cable. He said Comcast was working with local organizations to resolve the situation.