In a recent letter to Congressman Jose Serrano, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, the Chief of the Media Bureau, William T. Lake, expressed “hope” that AT&T would work to resolve the disputes raised in the Petition for Declaratory Ruling filed by the Alliance for Community Media et al, and the City of Lansing, Michigan. The “disputes” raised by the petition concern the delivery of Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access television channels on the AT&T U-Verse system. On their system, AT&T treats PEG channels discriminatorily by lumping PEG channels onto channel 99, where consumers have to surf an onscreen menu to find their city and then find the channel they want.
“The petition was filed over eighteen months ago, and now the Chief of the Media Bureau is saying that they are currently developing recommendations on how to proceed.” said John Rocco, President of American Community Television (ACT). “I don’t think that’s what Chairman Serrano was expecting when he pointedly requested an answer on this issue from the FCC.”
Lake cited the settlement between Comcast and the City of Dearborn as a model. In that situation, Comcast had slammed the PEG channels into the digital tier and required subscribers to rent additional boxes if they wanted to receive them.
“This is apples and oranges,” said Rocco. “Comcast may have settled because they wanted to go into the NBC Universal merger with a clean slate and all Comcast had to do was move the channels back to the position they had previously occupied. AT&T has never treated PEG channels the way they do every other channel on their system. AT&T needs to create separate PEG channels and obviously the FCC isn’t willing to tell them to do it, so they are deliberately letting the petition languish.”
ACT has taken the position that the Community Access Preservation Act (the CAP Act, HR-3745) is critical to solving the problem of the AT&T delivery of PEG channels, as well as other problems for PEG channels created by statewide and state-issued franchising laws that passed between 2005 and 2008.
“This letter from Chief Lake is further evidence that we must do everything we can to get the CAP Act passed,” said Rocco. “There’s going to be no help coming from the FCC anytime soon.”