Comcast to strike conciliatory tone in hearing

January 29, 2008 12:13:21 PM PST
A Comcast executive is apologizing for the way the cable company handled a proposed shift of community access programming higher up the dial in Michigan. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was summoning Comcast and others before a House subcommittee to answer questions about the company's interest in moving public, educational and governmental access programming into the 900-level digital channel range in Michigan.

The shift would require subscribers with analog televisions to buy digital, cable-ready TVs or rent or buy a digital converter box for each set. Dingell has raised concerns that it would force consumers to pay additional fees for programming currently guaranteed with basic cable services.

David L. Cohen, Comcast Corp.'s executive vice president, planned to tell the panel that "in retrospect, we failed to communicate adequately our goals and to work cooperatively with our local partners to produce a `win' for everyone."

"That is not the way we want to do business - in Michigan or in the rest of the country - and I want to apologize for that," he said in testimony prepared for delivery.

Cohen said Comcast was "now engaged in friendly, and what I am sure ultimately will be fruitful, discussions" with Michigan officials, including Dearborn Mayor John B. O'Reilly Jr., who also was to testify before the committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

Earlier this month, two judges ruled that the cable provider cannot move the community access channels higher up the dial. The temporary order by Macomb County Chief Circuit Judge David Viviano potentially could affect 400,000 Comcast customers in Michigan.

In a separate case, a federal judge in Detroit issued a similar ruling in a lawsuit filed by Dearborn and Ingham County's Meridian Township.

Philadelphia-based Comcast has offered to provide customers with a free converter box for a year. The cable provider wanted to move the PEG channels to free up bandwidth so it could offer other services, including high definition stations, to consumers paying premium rates.

Cohen planned to tell the panel that Comcast was "not discriminating against PEG channels and are, in fact, taking special care to ensure that the public can access them."