PEG Leaders Testify Before Congress to Protect Free Speech

January 28, 2008

Congress took testimony to protect the public from actions taken by
cable companies to move PEG access channels to digital tiers. Annie
Folger, Executive Director of Midpeninsula Community Media, testified in January. Watch her testimony here.

Speaking on behalf of the Alliance for Community Media, Ms. Folger’s remarks addressed the difficulties faced by Public, Educational and Government Access (PEG) communities across the country. Many communities are seeing threats to their PEG facilities posed by video providers unwilling to meet the public interest needs required of them in exchange for use of the public rights of ways.

Millions of dollars have been spent by telephone and cable companies in the past two years on ad campaigns and lobbying to influence state cable franchise laws in 17+ states. The FCC has over- ruled Congress, assigning itself powers that Congress conferred on local communities.

According to Ms. Folger, “This chaos is being used to dismantle PEG support and to damage channel quality and accessibility. We welcome competition. But it cannot be used to gut PEG Access provisions that have provided direct service to the local community.”

Ms. Folger’s testimony made special example of AT&T’s blockage of closed-captioning for PEG channels on its U-Verse system— a function which is found on all of its commercial channels. At DeAnza Community College in Ms. Folger’s home town, this policy results in the inability of hearing impaired students to view classes which they need to improve their lives.
According to Alliance Executive Director, Anthony Riddle, “AT&T’s practice is not the only bad act by a video provider, but their willingness to sacrifice the needs of disabled students in a race for profit certainly makes them the poster child of corporate irresponsibility.”

Another issue raised was the “channel-slamming” engaged in by Comcast. Channel slamming is the practice of relocating PEG channels from desirable locations to inaccessible or unfamiliar “wilderness” locations on short notice and without consulting the communities involved. Additional purchases or steps may be required of viewers to continue viewing PEG channels. This practice isolates the PEG channels and tends to decrease viewership.

Many PEG centers have moved into digital technology for production and transmission. PEG centers are fully engaged in migration to an integrated digital environment when allowed. The primary challenge for PEG access is not digital technology, but how cable providers— whether traditional cable operator or telephone company— provide PEG signal quality, functionality, channel placement and funding support.