J.J. SMITHCable companies in some states are charging public, education and government stations to broadcast their channels, which a PEG advocate said is a violation of the spirit of the law and should be challenged.
The Cable Communications Act of 1984 (P.L. 98-549) established a national policy for the regulation of cable communications by federal, state and local authorities. The Act also expects cable operators to provide viewers with “the widest possible diversity of information sources and services.”
The Act enables state and local authorities to allow, but not mandate, the establishment of PEG channels to distribute that information over cable systems. The legislation prevents cable companies from controlling PEG programs’ content, and it frees the cable companies from any potential liability for that content. In addition, the Act lifted programming rules and subscription fees.
However, cable companies in California, Florida and Ohio are charging PEG stations to transmit their channels. Under federal and state laws, a municipality can obtain a channel from a cable company. Some cable operators have taken the position they are allowed to charge for such carriage, a claim that a PEG advocate described as “ludicrous.”
Those cable companies “aren’t living up to the spirit of the law,” the advocate, who asked to remain anonymous so as to speak openly about such a politically-charged issue, told Government Video.
For some of the local cable providers, charging the PEG channels to broadcast content is likely a money maker, but for the big players—AT&T and Time Warner Inc.—the practice is probably an attempt to get the PEG channels to disappear, the advocate said. The big players have “always been hyper negative toward PEG,” the advocate added.
A recent example of how negative the situation is began in June 2012 and continued to Jan. 7, 2013, when the Tennessee Regulatory Authority ordered AT&T, the provider of the cable television service U-Verse in Tennessee, to replace faulty encoder equipment that AT&T supplied to the City of Knoxville’s public, education and government channel, but which AT&T refused to repair or replace.
Despite AT&T's refusal, the TRA ruled “AT&T must repair or replace the defective encoding equipment no later than 30 days” of the date of the ruling, or the company will be fined $1,000 per day up to $10,000.
The municipalities in California, Florida and Ohio that are being charged to transmit PEG channel content should note that Knoxville had to file a legal action with the TRA to get AT&T to comply with state law. While the situations are different, those municipalities should consider following Knoxville’s example of challenging a policy imposed by a cable provider. In this case, challenge the cable providers’ “pay to play” policies by pursuing legal actions that will require empowered authorities to determine if pay to play is within the spirit of the law.