Michigan court says ‘no’ to Comcast fees

Ruling blocks company's public programming plan

A Michigan court has blocked a Comcast plan that appeared to require some residents to pay for converter boxes in order to access public programming, and Congress applauded.

“I commend the court’s decision,” said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, in a statement. Dingell also promised that his committee “will be examining this matter thoroughly” in a hearing set for Jan. 29.

Under the Communications Act, cable operators must offer on their basic tier local broadcast stations as well as public, educational and government — so-called PEG — programming. However, according to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, “In recent weeks, Comcast has announced plans to convert analog PEG channels to digital format, which would require many viewers to pay to rent set-top boxes in addition to the cost for basic cable service in order to continue to receive PEG programming on all of their television sets.”

The plans were to take effect in Michigan on Tuesday, but the court blocked the attempt on Monday.

“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,” said Rep. Bart Stupak, an Energy and Commerce Committee member as well as chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Comcast issued the following statement:

“We are disappointed with the court’s action and are evaluating our options… Comcast planned to provide PEG programming to nearly all of our 1.3 million Michigan customers in a high-quality digital format on the basic tier of service. These channels would be grouped together in a uniform fashion, making it easier for viewers to find them no matter where they are in the state. Changes like these help us offer more high-definition channels, more video-on-demand and faster broadband services while also helping our local communities meet their local access needs.”