About PEG and Public Access
Local public, educational and governmental access (“PEG”) channels began in the early 1970s, as a “trade-off” offered to cities by the emerging cable television industry during franchise negotiations. PEG channels would be locally operated cable channels that would take advantage of the new medium’s potential to become an “electronic soapbox” to encourage expression of a wide range of local viewpoints. As the channels evolved, the “E” (education) and “G” (government) channels focused on those respective topic areas, while the “P” channels provided free airtime and access to video production facilities to any member of the public, regardless of the speaker’s message.
PEG channels differ from “public broadcasting” or PBS channels. PBS channels operate under a non-commercial broadcasting license issued by the Federal Communications Commission, and are available to viewers as an over-the-air channel, as well as on cable and DBS satellite services. PEG channels are available only on cable services (although they increasingly are becoming available as webcasts on the Internet).
Public Access in San Francisco
Because PEG channel requirements are developed primarily to meet local needs and interests, the organization and operating structures of these channels vary widely from city to city. The City of San Francisco has negotiated PEG channel requirements in its franchise agreements with Comcast and Astound Broadband, currently requiring six channels, two each dedicated for Public, Educational and Government purposes. The public access channels air throughout the City on Comcast Cable channels 29 and 76, Astound Broadband channels 29 and 30 and AT&T channel 99.
Since the 1990s, the City’s public access channels have been operated by a nonprofit entity, San Francisco Community Television Corporation (“CTC”). According to its bylaws, CTC’s stated purpose is “to promote, encourage, facilitate and oversee the use of public interest and public benefit mass media and telecommunications to serve the needs of citizens, civic organizations, government entities, cultural and arts organizations; to promote diversity of viewpoints, voices and freedom of expression in San Francisco; to train individuals and nonprofit organizations to produce high quality video programming of interest to the community.”
About this Request for Information/Comments
The Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (“DTIS”) is seeking information and comments (“RFI/C”) about the continued operation of the City’s public access cable television channels. The channels face at least two major challenges over the next 12-18 months.
First, the current channel operating agreement (PDF) with CTC will terminate on June 30, 2009. The City anticipates completing a competitive process to award a new agreement beginning on July 1, 2009, and thus seeks information and comment from all interested parties, including organizations with an interest in submitting proposals to operate the channels.
Second, the channels face the loss of operating funding under new state video franchise laws. The City seeks information and comment about current and expected future usage levels of public access services, and the availability of alternative funding sources or more efficient operating models that will help mitigate this loss of revenue.