House Committee Asks FCC To Investigate Reassignment of PEG Channels

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The House Appropriations Financial Services and General Services subcommittee this week asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the treatment of public, educational and government channels by both incumbent and new providers—especially AT&T.

The subcommittee, on Sept. 17, held a hearing on the status of PEG operations. In testimony then, FCC Media Bureau Chief Monica Shah Desai said that a complaint would prompt FCC action on issues raised at the hearing.

According to the letter sent Sept. 30 to the FCC, subcommittee members are concerned about incumbent operators who are digitizing and moving PEG channels from the lowest numbered channels to slots as high as Ch. 999.

Desai said at the hearing that federal law requires PEG channels to be placed on the basic service tier along with broadcast channels. The additional burden of having to find a new PEG channel location "seems to defeat the purpose of the basic service tier," she said.

The legislators also want the FCC to examine AT&T U-verse's PEG application. PEG supporters assert the application is cumbersome, for it aggregates all PEG channels in a region onto one menu that a consumer must search. Further, the content stream does not match the quality of commercial channels. Features such as second audio programming, closed captioning and other features can't be used when viewing AT&T's PEG application.

The subcommittee letter states that criticisms lawmakers heard at the hearing "represent(s) evidence that PEG channels are being assigned a second class status outside the basic service tier." The legislators asked the FCC to determine whether activities of the video providers are contrary to federal law, and if so,  to take "expeditious enforcement actions."