House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) called access to PEG channels an important issue and one the committee would look into.
Waxman's remarks came in a markup Wednesday on the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (HR 3101), which passed out of committee Wednesday on a voice vote. The assurance was made to Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who agreed to withdraw an amendment to the bill on PEG channels that could have slowed its progress.
Baldwin outlined the amendment before withdrawing it -- a way for her to make the point without holding up the larger bill.
She had asked for assurances that the committee would take up PEG issues "in the near future." Those issues included the move of PEG channels from analog to digital tiers, the clustering on digital channels on subchannels to a single, menu-driven channel, and other moves by cable operators that she argues can make them harder to access, including for the disabled.
Baldwin said PEG channels "serve as a lifeline to Americans with disabilities," helping them stay connected by
monitoring and engaging in local government and distant learning classes, or even going to church.
"While we strive for digital inclusion," she said, "we must protect and enhance the existing access to news and
civic life available to PEG channels."
Her amendment would have made sure that PEG providers would have to meet the same standards for accessibility as broadcasters.
It would also require that subscribers be able to "rely on their PEG channels for emergency alerts" Baldwin did not spell out exactly where that was going with that part of the amendment, but said that her concern was that when PEG channels are moved from an analog to a digital tier, "they are completely inaccessible to analog cable customers." That she said placed "an unnecessary burden on low-income and fixed-income individuals and families and people with disabilities."
The amendment is based on her Community Access Preservation Act (HR 3745), which she introduced last October and requires that PEG channels be just as accessible as broadcast must-carry stations carried on a cable system. That essentially means that to move PEG channels to digital, an operator would have to move broadcast channels to that tier as well. And if there are no must-carry stations, PEG channels would have to be available to every sub at no additional charge.
"You have raised a very important issue that we need to look at more carefully," said Waxman, who added that he would talk with her and committee leaders about "what we can do in this area."