Public, educational and governmental (or “PEG”) channels allow schools, governments, individuals and groups to exchange information about local events, emergencies and issues. The channels encourage creation of local programming by civic groups and nonprofits, cover government meetings and promote civic engagement. PEG channels are funded by cable television companies through subscription fees, private grants and contributions.

PEG television has recently been challenged by cable television companies. They have lobbied for significant legislation through the U.S. House of Representatives and through various state assemblies to reduce or end PEG television.

In California, the passage of the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 has drastically changed the laws by which cable TV companies must operate, and as a result, many public-access studios in that state have closed.

A similar situation is taking place in Illinois. The Chicago area’s primary cable television provider, Comcast, has been closing or limiting access to public-access facilities and refusing to televise city council meetings in select municipalities by reducing staff levels. Similarly, its competitor, AT&T U-Verse, has placed its PEG programs on channels that are cumbersome to find and difficult to load compared to commercial TV channels.

On Oct. 8, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) introduced the Community Access Preservation Act. This bill is designed to protect funding and usage of PEG channels in four ways:

  • Removing use restrictions on PEG access fees
  • Ending operators’ discriminatory treatment of PEG channels
  • Directing the Federal Communications Commission to study and report on the effects recent states’ video-franchising legislation have had on PEG access
  • Defining all video services delivered to the home over wire as “cable” for the purposes of the act, regardless of the transmission-protocol used.

The Alliance for Community Media is a national organization dedicated to public, educational and governmental access to cable TV and the Internet. The alliance’s Web site provides sample letters supporting the bill, which can be forwarded to legislators at both the state and federal level. Supporters of PEG television must take action to preserve the channels before it is too late.

Daniel Whitford
Oak Park

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