Community Media: Selected Clippings – 01/15/08 – Michigan Special Edition

Michigan Court Rules Against Comcast PEG Migration
Warren, Mich. Receives Temporary Restraining Order In Advance Of Deadline
by Linda Haugsted
Multichannel News

A federal court is not the only entity preventing Comcast from its PEG channel migration in Michigan.  On Jan. 14, the Macomb County Circuit Court ruled in favor of Warren, Mich., which sought a last-minute temporary restraining order against the operator on the eve of its planned Jan. 15 channel migration.  Judge David Viviano has scheduled a hearing Jan. 22 to determine whether to make the order permanent.

Warren went to court to protect its four popular channels, said Mary Michaels, assistant city attorney. The community has five school districts, and Comcast distributes school programming to each district on two educational channels, Michaels explained. The other two slots are government channels.  “Parents really rely on them,” she said.   —>

U.S. Judge Blocks Comcast’s PEG Move
Broadcast Newsroom

(Multichannel News) _ A federal judge Monday issued an order blocking Comcast from requiring thousands of customers in Michigan to obtain a digital set-top box in order to view public, educational, governmental channels controlled by local governments.  Comcast had wanted to migrate the PEG channels from analog to digital to free up bandwidth to provide more HD programming and video-on-demand services. Analog-only customers would lose PEG access today (Jan. 15) if they failed to obtain digital set-tops.

Judge Victoria Roberts, of the U.S. District Court for Michigan’s Eastern District, concerned about the disruption of government-supplied information to analog-only viewers, decided to maintain the status quo in response to objections to Comcast’s plan raised by local leaders in Dearborn and Meridian Township.

“While the court agrees there are some general benefits with digitizing channels, it finds the public interest is better served by the temporary preservation of the PEG channels in their analog format so the public may maintain access to vital information,” Judge Roberts said in a 16-page opinion handed down just hours after a hearing in her Detroit courtroom…

Roberts indicated her ruling was a close call. The Michigan governments had put forward a few legal arguments that were unlikely to prevail at a later hearing, she noted. Roberts agreed, though, that Comcast’s PEG-migration public notice was faulty and that the new set-top box cost burden on analog-only customers “may be unreasonable.”

Comcast isn’t the only cable operator shifting PEG channels to digital to free up analog bandwidth. Bright House Networks has made a similar move in Florida. But Comcast, as the largest U.S. cable company is an industry bellwether. Prior to its recent transaction with Insight Communications, Comcast had 26.1 million subscribers, or 27% pay-TV market share under FCC rules.

Pressure had building on Comcast’s PEG moves for several weeks. The latest effort to influence Comcast’s policy came Monday when Rep. Edward Markey (D.-Mass.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, scheduled a Jan. 29 hearing called “PEG Services in the Digital TV Age.” On Monday, Dingell, Markey and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, put out a statement commending the court’s action and affirming the Jan. 29 hearing date, saying a witness list would come later but that government and cable officials would be included, as would PEG providers.

Dingell said in the release: “I commend the court’s decision to block Comcast’s plan to provide PEG channels in a digital format only. This proposal would have forced many Michigan consumers to pay additional fees to rent set-top boxes to receive the high-quality educational programming they are currently guaranteed with basic cable service. I commend the mayor of Dearborn, John O’Reilly, for his leadership on this issue. The Committee on Energy and Commerce will be examining this matter thoroughly in coming weeks.”

Stupak said: “I am concerned that cable consumers are encountering barriers to receiving their public, education and government access channels. PEG channels serve an essential role in local communities and I was pleased to see the court block an effort to make these channels available only to digital cable subscribers. As media consolidation continues to increase, PEG channels become even more vital in providing a much needed local voice and diversity of opinion. The committee must make it clear to cable companies that we are serious about protecting access to PEG channel programming.”

Markey said:”PEG services play an important role in promoting localism and diversity in national media policy. They provide vital and vibrant services in communities around the nation and foster civic access and involvement in the best traditions of our democracy.”

Comcast Blunders in TRO Argument on PEG
by Jon Kreucher
Blogging Broadband

Litigation can be full of ironies.  The federal temporary restraining order which prevents Comcast from migrating Michigan’s public, educational, and government access channels to the 900 range of the company’s lineup again proves the point.

We may well look back on the lawsuit initiated by Meridian Township, Michigan and supported by the City of Dearborn and conclude that the greatest victory came in an area where no relief had actually been sought.  As yesterday’s BloggingBROADBAND predicted, Comcast made a serious tactical error in its argument before the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan:  The company asserted that Michigan’s new video franchising law somehow supersedes the requirements of the federal Cable Act, or, as put in my article yesterday, Comcast made a sort of “reverse-Supremacy Clause” argument.

As foretold, Comcast’s odd theory was greeted by some of the most critical language in Judge Victoria Roberts’ sixteen page Opinion and Order.  According to Judge Roberts:  “Defendants responded [to the communities’ Cable Act positions] by arguing state law preempts any federal law . . . and [Comcast] maintain[s] that relevant provisions of [the communities’] [Franchise] Agreements were invalidated by the Michigan Uniform Video Service Local Franchise Agreement . . . contrary to [Comcast’s] position, the requirements of §531 and other federal statutory requirements, are not, ‘in addition to . . . the provisions of [the] uniform video service local franchise agreement. . .’  By its terms, the Michigan Franchise Agreement requires compliance ‘with all valid and enforceable federal and state statutes and regulations,’ and this compliance is not ‘additional’ to anything in the franchise agreement.”

Judge Roberts specifically applied this reasoning to a local franchising authority’s discretion under the Cable Act to require PEG programming in a franchise agreement – but she also went further, and found that the Cable Act’s requirement that the total cost of basic service must be reasonable still exists, too — despite state law in Michigan which purports to prohibit any rate regulation.

This language confirms the answer to a rhetorical question I posed to a Comcast official almost a year ago:  “If state law purports to both limit an LFA’s federally-vested discretion and require cable operators to comply with all enforceable federal law, what’s really changed?”  The fact is that the state law’s framework has been circular from the beginning, and changes little (and perhaps nothing).   Assuming that such a clause ever had to be included, Michigan’s state law expressly requires compliance with all enforceable federal requirements, and Judge Robert’s Opinion and Order confirms this view.  As a consequence, Comcast has stumbled through a door which opens to a wide variety of other issues that cable operators have claimed over the course of the past year were preempted under Michigan’s state law – things like rate regulation, and the imposition of customer service standards to name just two.  It also shores up what was likely the next target of Michigan’s cable providers:  Local governments’ institutional networks.   —>

Potentially Much More At Stake In Michigan Than PEG — NAB, PBS and Folks Worried About Bundling of Services Better Wake Up And Pay Attention!
by Harold Feld (1 comment)
Harold Feld’s Tales of the Sausage Factory

Compared to the primary battles in Michigan, the fight between Comcast and local governments about Comcast’s decision to migrate Public Educational and Government (PEG) channels to digital seems like small potatoes. But potentially, the lawsuit filed by the cities of Dearborn and Meridian in local federal court could have huge impact on how cable operators carry broadcast television and even how they bundle video services with their voice and broadband offerings. —>

Follow Up On MI PEG Lawsuit
by Harold Feld
Harold Feld’s Tales of the Sausage Factory

So the judge heard the motion for a restraining order by Dearborn and Meridian to keep Comcast from migrating PEG channels to digital. The court issued the restraining order, finding that the towns were more likely than not to prevail on several of their issues, that Comcast would suffer no harm from the delay, but that the cities would potentially suffer irreparable harm if Comcast migrated the PEG channels to where most citizens couldn’t see them. (You can find the opinion, the pleadings, and other useful information here.)   —>

Fed judge stops Comcast’s channel changes
For now, ruling keeps public access programs for basic cable viewers.
by Paul Egan
The Detroit News

A federal judge late Monday temporarily halted plans by Comcast to move local public access channels to digital TV today. Those plans would have put the channels out of range for hundreds of thousands of basic cable subscribers in Michigan.   —>

Lawsuit seeks to block Comcast’s plan on local access channels
Associated Press

Comcast cannot move community access channels higher up the dial — and out of the reach of thousands of Michigan cable subscribers with analog televisions — under a temporary order issued by a Macomb County judge.   —>

Comcast weighs options after judge restrains access-channel change
by Zachary Gorchow
Detroit Free Press (2 comments)

Comcast is evaluating its options after a federal judge on Monday imposed a temporary restraining order on the cable company’s plans to move community access channels higher up the dial, a move that would have made them unavailable to Michigan cable subscribers with analog televisions.  The company in a prepared statement said it is disappointed with U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts decision to block the movement of public, educational and governmental access channels into the 900-level digital range.   —>

Topic: Comcast-Public Access
by rapunzel11 (9 comments)
Flint Talk Radio

Please share this with people that like you! Your friends too!  Go to: to sign our petition!

For Immediate Release Flint, MI. Jan-10, 2008
Area producers call for action against Comcast!

In light of Comcast CEO Robert L. Cohen’s refusal to consider Detroit-area Congressman John Dingell’s request to stop Comcast’s plan to move Public, Educational, and Governmental (PEG) channels to 900’s, Flint-area public access producers are organizing a boycott of Comcast beginning January 14th.

Paul Herring of “Save Access Flint” understands fully how the cable giant’s recent decisions, including their handling of the digital conversion, is impacting the community. Herring said, “We don’t want to stop the digital transition – we want to help it be a smooth ride. We could be working together on this. However, given their recent actions, Comcast doesn’t appear to have any intent of working with the communities they dominate.”  Since December, Comcast has announced a series of devastating decisions. They include:

1. Firing longtime Public Access staffers across the state.
2. Closing all Public Access studios.
3. Terminating all equipment libraries.
4. Terminating community training in video production and editing.
5. Eliminating community calendars.
6. Moving playback facilities for all community public access stations to Southfield.
7. Removing programming listings in TV and program guides.
8. Raising cable rates by 13.5% .

compiled by Rob McCausland
Alliance for Community Media

Explore posts in the same categories: cable franchising, cable vs telco, citizen journalism, PEG access TV, public access television, video franchising

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