Comcast: Moving PEG Channels to Digital in Michigan is Legal and in Public Interest

Comcast says its migration of PEG channels to digital is part of the company's larger transition of all its channels there and that its move of PEG channels to a digital tier in Michigan is both legal and in the public interest.

That came in comments to the FCC late Friday.

Various groups asked the FCC for a declaratory ruling that, among other things, Comcast should not be allowed to move the PEG channels off of the analog basic, when it is not moving other channels.

Comcast argued that the petition sought preferential treatment for the channels that would prevent operators from reclaiming bandwidth for new video services, more on-demand and more high-def programming, as well as more diverse programming and faster Internet. Those last two are priorities of the new Obama administration.

Comcast argues that it must make the digital switch ASAP since competitors DirecTV, Dish, FiOS and U-Verse are already all digital.

Rather than trying to accord PEG channels second-class status, Comcast says it proposed to move the channels from "random and scattered" analog locations to a "neighborhood" of consecutive, technically superior digitized basic channels, and make that consistent statewide.

The Michigan petitioners opposed to that digital move argued that Comcast was "discriminating against PEG content, by forcing the content to be offered through a different interface and by creating additional hurdles or costs for those who wish to view the content [like having to get a digital converter box], and by taking steps that will reduce the viewership of the content."

Comcast frames the PEG move as digitizing the basic tier, while its opponents argue that digitizing them effectively takes them out of the basic tier by placing the PEG content "behind unusual and inconvenient interfaces that distinguish them from commercial channels, and because they create hurdles to view PEG content above and beyond viewing commercial channels," as Free Press said in comments supporting the petition.

But Comcast argues that the law does not limit the format in which the channels can be carried in basic or what equipment may be necessary to view it, and, in fact, specifically acknowledges that that equipment might include converter boxes.

Comcast also points out that Michigan passed video franchise reform legislation giving cable operators more flexibility over the location of PEG channels.

While Comcast asks the FCC to deny the petition to the extent that it would prevent the company from digitizing the PEG channels, but it takes no position on the petition's other request relating to whether AT&T's U-Verse discriminates against PEG channels in its method of delivery.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.