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Cable Irked by FCC '70-70' Survey

Cable industry organizations find they're still fighting battles with former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin, or at least with his legacy.

Just before Martin shipped out on Jan. 20, the Commission requested that cable operators supply key data that could determine whether the FCC can impose further regulations on the cable industry. (See Martin Resigning FCC Post and Kevin Martin's Greatest Hits .)

Now, in a Feb. 17 filing, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and the American Cable Association (ACA) , a pressure group that represents small and mid-sized MSOs serving 7 million subscribers, are complaining that the FCC's data-collection requirements are too broad, too costly, and unnecessary.

As a quick refresher, this issue centers on the so-called "70-70 Test," which could allow the FCC to regulate cable more tightly if at least 70 percent of U.S. homes are passed by MSOs, with at least 70 percent of those homes actually subscribing to a cable service with 36 or more activated channels.

Martin -- who wanted to use the results to argue a need for à la carte cable programming -- said both prongs of the 70-70 test were met, based on some third-party data. The cable industry, led by the NCTA, agreed that cable lines pass more than 70 percent of U.S. homes but claimed the service penetrations did not meet the other half of the test. (See NCTA to FCC: 'Hands Off!' )

To resolve the issue, the FCC asked the cable industry to supply its latest data -- and that's what the NCTA and ACA are complaining about.

They say the FCC already has information, including recent price survey data from cable operators, showing that cable is well under the subscriber penetration threshold. The NCTA also points out that the Commission already collects annual data (via the FCC's Form 325), including information on cable subscribers, homes passed, and channel capacity, from every cable system serving 20,000 or more subscribers.

The NCTA says that should be enough, and that even if systems with fewer than 20,000 were represented, "cable penetration would still be well below the 70 percent threshold."

The ACA, meanwhile, argues that some smaller operators don't keep those kinds of numbers. Although the FCC is asking for data from 2006 and 2007, providing it "will either be impossible or significantly burdensome," the ACA contends. The ACA also asked for the FCC to exempt systems with 20,000 or fewer subscribers from collecting data on unoccupied homes.

And that leads to yet another complaint: The NCTA and ACA are both upset that the new survey asks for new data such as the "number of unoccupied/seasonal homes" passed -- something they say MSOs have no uniform way to track. They're also balking at an FCC request to track homes-passed based on ZIP codes.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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