Give Local TV an Equal Footing

Companies like Comcast and AT&T have been discriminating against PEG channels, which are some of the only avenues available to everyday folks who want to try their hand at producing video programming. Now, the FCC is inviting the public to weigh in.

As a television viewer, I’m a channel surfer. And I know I’m not alone.

Most people flip their way through the television dial, pause when something piques their interest, and move on when boredom hits. As media consumers, we click, click, click until we find a program that grabs us. The beauty of television is that we have so many options, including local programming. Or so it seems.

But according to more than 300 organizations, city officials and other individuals who filed comments yesterday with the Federal Communications Commission, companies like Comcast and AT&T have been illegally discriminating against local programming on community television channels.

These PEG channels (PEG stands for public, educational, and governmental access), have been all but booted from the television dial, which means that the days of landing on a city council meeting or a 30-minute performance by a local band are over for customers of Comcast or AT&T’s U-Verse system.

That’s a terrible shame because PEG channels are a vital platform for local media in our communities. They are some of the only avenues available to everyday folks who want to try their hand at producing video programming. Many PEG stations are robust community operations that provide media training and youth programs, foster civic journalism, or support the production of documentaries and other videos – some of which have gone on to win Emmy Awards.

But companies like Comcast and AT&T have moved PEG channels off the basic tier, making them difficult to access. These companies also severely limit the many features offered by commercial channels, such as closed captioning and digital video recording (like TiVO). The PEG channels on these systems are slow to load and their video quality has been severely degraded at a time when the commercial channels are moving to high-definition.

AT&T and Comcast may not want to prioritize local channels, but it turns out that the public does. Free Press joined the chorus of voices calling for PEG channels to receive equal treatment with the rest of the basic commercial tier:

PEG content has been and will continue to be a valuable component of our media landscape, as a source of local and diverse content, as a means to allow the public to participate in media generation, and as a means to connect the government to its constituents. For these reasons, Congress and the Commission established strong protections for the promotion of PEG content in the systems of multichannel video programming distributors – PEG content must be placed on an equal footing to basic commercial channels.

Reply comments can be filed with the FCC through March 24. Learn how to file into docket MB 09-13 with the FCC.