Charles B. Goldfarb Specialist in Telecommunications Policy
environment for public, educational, and governmental (PEG) cable channels has
been roiled by public policy and budgetary changes at the federal, state,
and local levels and by technological changes in cable networks. More than
100 PEG access centers—which provide community groups and individuals free
access to video production facilities and equipment, training, and programming
time—have closed since 2005, and more may close when provisions in recently enacted
state laws that eliminate requirements for cable companies to provide funding
support take effect. Many PEG access centers, however, continue to have
stable funding sources.
When awarding franchises for the use of public rights of way to offer cable
television service, many local jurisdictions required the cable companies
to set aside some of their channel capacity for PEG use and to provide
financial support for those PEG access channels. Those channels are not
mandated by federal law. But the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984
amended the Communications Act to explicitly allow franchising authorities
to require cable operators to set aside channel capacity for PEG use and
to provide adequate facilities or financial support for those channels.
These PEG provisions have been a primary vehicle for fostering in cable systems the
long-standing U.S. media policy goal of localism.
Several recent developments are affecting the amount of financial support from
cable providers and local governments for the PEG channels. In recent
years, 21 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. 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
Driven by technological changes, some 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.
As traditional cable providers are migrating from analog to digital
transmission of programming, some subscribers must obtain set-top boxes to
receive PEG programming. AT&T’s U-verse service uses a different
platform for PEG channels than for commercial channels. It is more
difficult for subscribers, especially the visually impaired, to access the
PEG channels, and PEG programming cannot be recorded on a DVR, leading some to claim
the service does not meet requirements in franchise agreements or in the
Communications Act. AT&T responds that it meets all requirements and
it is inappropriate to require it to deploy its network inefficiently to
meet rules developed for traditional cable architecture.
One bill introduced in the 112th Congress,
the Community Access Preservation (CAP) Act (H.R. 1746), would have
allowed local jurisdictions in states that pass state franchise laws to require cable
companies to provide PEG support equal to the greater of the amount required
under the state law, the historical support required prior to enactment of
the state law, or 2% of the gross cable revenues of the cable operator.
That PEG support would not have been included in the statutory cap on
franchise fees of 5% of revenues. The bill would have prohibited cable
operators from charging subscribers for set-top boxes needed to receive
PEG channels that are migrated from analog to digital tiers. The cable
industry opposed the bill, claiming it would raise costs and rates and
place cable operators at a competitive disadvantage with satellite television
Date of Report: January 4, 2013
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