Missouri Video Franchise Law Discriminates against PEG, Groups Say

Matt Squire, Telecommunications Reports International:

The state’s 2007 Video Services Providers Act does little to protect consumer access to public, educational, and governmental (PEG) television channels and even less to address consumer complaints and should be rescinded, according to the American Community Television (ACT) and the Missouri Municipal League.

“We call on the Missouri state legislature to amend SB 284 [the Video Services Providers Act] to make the PEG channels whole again through placement on the basic tier of service and the reinstitution of PEG access television funding to at least the levels that were provided in local franchises when SB 284 was enacted,” said the groups in comments filed with the Public Service Commission yesterday.

ACT and the Municipal League’s plea was made in response to the PSC’s request for public comment on a draft report to the General Assembly on the state of video franchises in Missouri and the Video Services Providers Act. The Act gives the PSC the sole authority to authorize video services in a particular area.

The groups said that Charter and Mediacom have singled out PEG channels for discriminatory treatment ever since the Video Services Providers Act was passed.

“It is a violation of federal law,” said Bunnie Riedel, Executive Director of ACT in a press release yesterday. “The Telecommunications Act clearly states that PEG channels are a part of the minimum contents of the basic tier of service, Charter and Mediacom are in violation of that law.”

The Act has also hampered the ability of consumer complaints over cable services to be addressed by local regulators, said the groups and added that the PSC is underreporting such consumer complaints. The PSC report found four consumer complaints during the twelve month period, but ACT said that a “quick survey” conducted by the group found at least 1,200 complaints would be registered in any given month in the state the size of Missouri.

The groups noted that the Act removed the ability of local municipalities to address complaints on cable service. “Asking the cable operators to self-report does not help consumers, and it leaves open the possibility that video service providers will not report accurately the number of complaints they receive,” said ACT and the Municipal League.

“Cable customers in Missouri are not being protected,” said Ms. Riedel in the press release. “The purpose of the legislation was to bring cable competition and to lower prices. Even the PSC admits this has not happened, saying that prices have either remained the same or have gone up. Meanwhile consumers have taken it on the chin.”

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