FCC Seeks Comments on PEG Carriage Requirements
The FCC is seeking comments on three Petitions for Declaratory Ruling which ask the Commission to determine whether the Communications Act and FCC regulations limit the methods and technologies that cable operators may use to transmit public, educational and governmental (PEG) channels. Although the Petitions focus on PEG channels, they touch on the limits and standards (if any) that local, state and federal regulators may impose on cable operators' transmission technology. These issues are increasingly important as cable operators deploy switched digital video and other new technical advancements to serve subscribers and compete in the marketplaces for video, Internet and voice services.
Two of the Petitions challenge AT&T's method of transmitting PEG channels to subscribers of its U-Verse video service (the Petitions were filed by the City of Lansing, Mich., and Alliance for Community Media et al.). They argue that AT&T delivers PEG channels using a platform that is distinct from, and inferior to, the transmission technology used to deliver broadcast and other cable channels. These Petitions describe AT&T's “PEG product” as a webcast that requires subscribers to download an application that delivers streaming video of PEG programming to their set-top boxes. The Petitions argue that AT&T delivers PEG programming with long initial delays for the programming to load, limited functionality (such as closed captioning), and decreased signal quality for PEG programming relative to AT&T's transmission of broadcast and cable networks. The Petitions ask the Commission to determine under federal law that: (1) AT&T “discriminates” against PEG programming and fails to include PEG channels in the basic service tier; (2) AT&T exercises impermissible editorial control over PEG channels; and (3) AT&T does not designate channel capacity for PEG channels as required by AT&T's franchise agreements.
The third Petition challenges a proposal by Comcast to deliver PEG channels using digital transmission technology. Four Michigan municipalities have asked the Commission to resolve a series of questions arising from litigation between the municipalities and Comcast in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The municipalities seek guidance from the Commission on their claim that Comcast's proposal to convert analog PEG channels to digital format, and move them to new digital channel locations, would remove PEG channels from the basic service tier and impermissibly “discriminate” against PEG channels.
Comments on the Petitions for Declaratory Ruling are due March 9, 2009. Replies are due March 24, 2009. If you have any questions about these proceedings, please contact one of the attorneys below.