WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, delivered the following opening statement this afternoon during a hearing on Public, Educational, and Governmental (PEG) Services:

Good Afternoon.  Today the Subcommittee will examine issues related to public, educational, and governmental services on cable systems.

I want to start this afternoon by welcoming my colleague Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) as the new Ranking Member of the Subcommittee.  We have a busy agenda ahead for this year that will address many telecommunications policy topics on both the legislative and oversight fronts - with our next significant oversight hearing scheduled for February 13th on the status of the digital television transition.  Just four weeks into the consumer converter box program, the Commerce Department has almost four million requests for coupons worth about 160 million dollars, so it is off to a brisk start.

We are also following very closely the ongoing auctions at the Federal Communications Commission of the licenses to the frequencies the broadcasters will be relinquishing as part of the digital television transition.  I am eager to see the extent to which the auction actually results in the introduction of new competitors into the marketplace in different regions around the country as well as the advent of new wireless services, devices, and applications. 

Initial reports of lagging interest thus far in the so-called "D-block" license, a commercial wireless opportunity with a unique public safety mission, is discouraging.  The auction is obviously not over yet and it is still possible for successful auction of the "D-block" license.  However, if the auction ends and the "D-block" has not met its reserve price, the Subcommittee will actively review the parameters of that auction, including an assessment of its various conditions, the reserve price, and the structure of the public safety trust.  And it would be my intention, should events at the auction require it, to work closely with FCC Chairman Martin and his colleagues to develop a plan for re-auctioning these frequencies in a way that will foster new wireless competition and enhance interoperable, public safety communications across the country.

Today's hearing focuses upon public, educational, and governmental (PEG) services.  Historically, the Congress has supported ensuring that a portion of capacity on cable systems be reserved for PEG services and thousands of communities around the country have used such rights to access cable system capacity to develop and offer television channels for their local communities.  With the backdrop of our recent debate late last year on media ownership, it is important to keep in mind that these PEG channels represent vital and vibrant voices for localism and diversity in our national media mix.

PEG channels today offer citizens the chance to view local government proceedings, local high school plays and sporting events, educational courses, foreign language programming, local civic news and information, programming distributed by armed forces, charities and local community groups and other fare.  The vast majority of this programming would otherwise not exist on the dial because neither traditional broadcasters nor cable programmers typically develop programming on such a local level or open access to community groups to program time and capacity.

As the nation continues its transition to digital television and the march of technology moves ever forward, it is important that cable operators, programmers, and communities work together to ensure that consumer welfare is protected.  As we have seen in recent weeks, many cable operators are moving channels - including PEG channels and C-SPAN - in a manner that is drawing consumer complaints.  The Congress has longstanding policy interests in safeguarding and fostering diversity and localism even as we seek to promote more broadband deployment, greater affordability, and the advent of other new services and equipment in the marketplace. 

Today we have an opportunity to hear from witnesses about what is happening in the marketplace and obtain suggestions as to how these important policy objectives can be met with the least amount of disruption to consumers.  I thank our witnesses for coming this afternoon and look forward to their testimony.

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January 29, 2008

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