PEG channels include "public access," "educational" and "government" channels. Public access television channels provide opportunities for members of the public and various groups the airtime to present their programming content. Educational access channels allow public schools, colleges, and other educational departments to air programming and recordings of school events on the local cable system. Government access channel allow local governments to show local government meetings, election programming, local emergency announcements and other events and programs related to local government functions.

PEG programming in the United States began with public access channels, which have a colorful history dating back to the late 1960s.[17] Local communities began to require as part of the franchise arrangement that cable companies offer opportunities for the production and carriage of community-initiated programming, both as an alternative to the more limited programming choices of the time and also to address local issues on the cable system.

The first public access channel is believed to have been launched in 1968 on the cable system in Dale City, Va., near Washington, D.C. Also in 1968, an advisory committee to Mayor John Lindsey of New York City produced a report recommending city cable companies make two channels available for public access, which set forth a model used in many cities.[18]

The establishment of PEG channels was actively promoted by the FCC in the 1970s. In 1969, the FCC required all cable systems with 3,500 or more subscribers to offer at least one channel for programming from local origins.[19] The FCC expanded the requirement in 1972 to require cable systems in the 100 largest markets to provide at least three PEG channels.[20]

Various small counter-culture groups of the era took advantage of the availability of access to local cable channels to express their views. An early leading proponent for the new medium was Michael Shamberg, a former writer for Time-Life, who coined the term "guerrilla television" to describe his plan to use the channels as a nonviolent protest alternative to the few established television outlets of the time. Sounding much like today's proponents of the Internet and other alternative media, Shamberg proclaimed that the "inherent potential of information technology can restore democracy in America if people will become skilled with information tools."[21]

The growth of PEG channels was aided by the Cable Franchise Policy and Communications Act of 1984. The act allowed local governments to require PEG channels, prevented cable operators from exerting editorial control over the content of programs carried on PEG channels, and exempted cable systems from liability for PEG channel content. Cable systems were permitted to fund PEG channels with revenues from the general 5 percent franchise fee, and this is what many cable systems chose to do. Alternatively, however, the act also allowed franchise agreements to carry additional fees of up to 3 percent of cable television revenues for PEG channels. Such dedicated fees further fueled the expansion of PEG channels.[22]

This rapid growth of PEG channels was reflected in popular culture by a recurring sketch on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" based on a fictional public access channel show called "Wayne's World." In the sketches, Mike Myers was a high school student named Wayne who hosted a low-budget weekly public access channel show from his parents' basement in Aurora, Ill.. The success of this parody led to two highly successful movies. By the time of the Wayne's World movies in the early 1990s, PEG channels had largely taken the form that we see today. Throughout their history, however, the expansion of PEG channels has been driven primarily by regulatory mandates, not by growth in viewership.

Early PEG facilities included expensive racks of analog tape decks and automated video switching systems, which were often funded by the cable system as required by the franchise agreement negotiation with the local government. Today, however, digital production and distribution equipment is much less expensive. Costs of cameras, playback servers, and nearly all of the equipment used for video content production and distribution have made production facilities much more affordable even without the subsidies that franchise agreements require cable systems to pay.