CRS Report Details PEG Challenges

American Community Television Tuesday applauded a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report that lists numerous financial, policy and technological obstacles facing Public, Educational and Government (PEG) channels. Those include state budget cuts, state franchising laws that have axed PEG requirements, and technological changes that have allowed the channels to be combined into a single digital destination.

Those channels are ones cable operators must set aside by law for PEG channels if a locality or state makes them part of a franchise agreement.

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

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," said the report.

The report does read 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," says the report. "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 AT&T–T-Mobile merger.

The report also referred to the Community Access Preservation Act (CAP Act-HR1746, baked by ACT and introduced by Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and now with 17 co-sponsors according to ACT. The bill, which is 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.

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.