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Waxman Says Commerce Will Look Into Access to PEG Channels - Broadcasting & Cable

Waxman Says Commerce Will Look Into Access to PEG Channels

Accessibliity considered crucial for disabled Americans
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House Energy
& Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) called access
to PEG channels an important issue
and one the
committee would look into.

That came in
a markup Wednesday on the 21st Century Communications and Video
Accessibility Act (HR 3101), which
passed out of
committee Wednesday on a voice vote. The assurance was made to Rep.
Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who agreed
to withdraw an
amendment to the bill on PEG channels that could have slowed its
progress.
Baldwin
outlined the amendment before withdrawing it (which is away for her to
make the point without holding up the
larger bill).

She had
asked for assurances that the committee would take up PEG issues "in the
near future." Those issues included
the move of PEG
channels from analog to digital tiers, the clustering on digital
channels on subchannels to a single, menu-driven channel, and other
moves by cable operators that that she argues can make them
harder to access, including for the disabled.

She said PEG
channels "serve as a lifeline to Americans with disabilities," helping
them stay connected by

monitoring
and engaging in local government and distant learning classes, or even
go to church.

"While we
strive for digital inclusion," she said, "we must protect and enhance
the existing access to news and

civic
life available to PEG channels.

Her
amendment would have made sure that PEG providers would have to meet the
same standards for accessibility as broadcasters.

It would
also require that subscribers be able to "rely on their PEG channels for
emergency alerts" Baldwin did not spell out exactly where that was
going with that part of the amdment, but did say
that her concern was that when PEG channels are moved from an analog to
a digital tier, "they are completely inaccessible to analog cable
customers," which she said placed "an unnecessary burden on low-income
and fixed-income individuals and families and people
with disabilities."

The
amendment is based on her Community Access Preservation Act (HR 3745),
which she introduced last October and requires that PEG channels be just
as accessible as broadcast must-carry stations carried
on a cable system. That essentially means that to move PEG channels to
digital, an operator would have to move broadcast channels to that tier
as well. And if there are no must-carry stations, PEG channels would
have to be available to every sub at no additional
charge.

"You have
raised a very important issue that we need to look at more carefully,"
said Waxman, who added that he would talk with her and committee leaders
about "what we can do in this area."

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