Public, Education and Government Channel Access More Difficult on AT&T U-Verse System, Says California PUC

PEG viewers could not view community college courses in closed caption or hear public meetings in another language through secondary audio.

by / September 17, 2008

Local public, education and government (PEG) access channels available through cable television would be more difficult to access through AT&T's U-verse video service, says the California Public Utility Commission's Division of Ratepayer Advocates (CDRA). U-verse operates on a different technology from traditional cable service, as it is IP-Based TV (IPTV).

Rather than using the same community channel numbers as cable, said CDRA, U-verse lists all of the cities in a region on channel 99. Viewers have to wait for a computer application to load and then flip through a number of menu pages to find the city and channel. Viewers cannot toggle between commercial and community channels, or set an automatic recording. They cannot view community college courses in closed caption or hear public meetings in another language through secondary audio, according to CDRA. CDRA has posted a video demonstration of the system on YouTube.

Among the voices in opposition to U-verse, Chicago Access Network Television has posted a list of features it says will make community access more difficult, and the Alliance for Community Media said in regard to authorization for U-verse: "The FCC has issued an order which would not only destroy public, educational and government access, but would fundamentally undermine the character of our local communities."

In a statement provided today to a congressional hearing on PEG issues, AT&T said that U-verse is a "technological leap forward," and that PEG programming is available at no additional cost in connection with any U-verse TV package. "U-verse TV unifies the full range of PEG programming in a given designated market area at a single easy-to-find location," said the statement. "If, for instance, a particular municipality has produced premier educational programs, residents in a neighboring municipality will be able to enjoy them." The statement also said that local governments were consulted in developing U-verse and modifications were made to enable better access. "All U-verse customers will know exactly were to go for the available PEG programming in their area."

Wayne Hanson Senior Executive Editor, Center For Digital Government