Comcast Apologizes for Channel Shift

House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), during a public hearing last week, saluted Comcast for working with local governments in Michigan on the carriage of public, educational and governmental channels there.

Comcast executive vice president David Cohen apologized at the hearing for the way the top U.S. cable firm communicated a plan to move PEG channels to the digital lineup in Michigan.

“In retrospect, we failed to communicate adequately our goals and to work cooperatively with our local partners to produce a 'win' for everyone,” Cohen said. “This is not the way we want to do business — in Michigan or in the rest of the country — and I want to apologize for that.”

A federal judge in Michigan blocked the move on Jan. 14. Dingell and local officials were angered at Comcast's offer to provide each household one free digital set-top but later charge about $4.20 per month for the device.

Comcast also wanted to charge $4.20 per month immediately for each additional set-top needed to view PEG channels.

“I am pleased that Comcast, which had announced changes detrimental to the way it delivers PEG services in Michigan, has agreed to make a good-faith effort to work out a settlement with the affected communities,” Dingell said at the Jan. 29 House hearing he called on the subject. “I want to commend them for that.”

Cohen said Comcast wanted talks with officials in Dearborn and other Michigan townships to yield a positive outcome.

“I am pleased to say that we are now engaged in friendly, and what I am sure ultimately will be fruitful, discussions with local government officials in Michigan,” Cohen said.

Comcast's intent was to make the best use of limited channel capacity as it gradually transitions from a hybrid analog-digital platform to an all-digital services provider, just like the video networks of AT&T and Verizon Communications and the satellite-TV services of DirecTV and Dish Network, he said.

“Today's intensively competitive video environment compels cable operators to offer PEG channels in a digital format,” Cohen said. “Our major competitors are already all-digital, and they widely tout that fact in their consumer marketing.”

The migration to digital, he added, would in the end sweep in all channels, not just PEG stations. “Frankly, if we do not deliver PEG programming in digital format, it will not be long before PEG programmers complain about being abandoned in an analog wasteland.”