Video services

FCC Demands Cable Sub Data

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is asking cable operators for more data so his agency can figure out for sure if it needs to impose new, stricter regulations on the cable biz.

Martin's request comes after a failure to secure the necessary votes to favor an old ruling called the "70/70" test. That test gives the FCC the ability to enact new cable regulations if it finds that cable systems with 36 or more activated channels are available to 70 percent of U.S. homes, and 70 percent of those homes subscribe to them.

While there's been no argument about the first prong of that measurement, controversy has surrounded the second. (See Martin Misses.)

Martin had been using data from Warren Communications News Inc. that alleged that the second benchmark, at 71.4 percent, had been met. But other research shows the number of homes subscribing to qualified operators to be well below the 70 percent threshold.

Three FCC commissioners -- Jonathan Adelstein, Robert McDowell, and Deborah Taylor Tate -- did not support Martin on his findings that U.S. cable penetration had exceeded 70 percent. (See NCTA to FCC: 'Hands Off!' )

Martin defended his use of Warren's data and its reporting methods, even though he's taking Warren's word on how it arrives at its figures without doing his own research.

But, after failing to find support with the other commissioners, Martin now concedes that the FCC should do its own homework. "As a result, we conclude that the only way to accurately measure the 70/70 test is to collect data directly from the cable industry," the FCC said in a release issued late Tuesday night. (See FCC Calls for Cable Data.)

Under a Notice of Inquiry for the 14th Annual Video Competition Report, the FCC is now calling on each cable operator to submit the following information from 2006 within 60 days "under penalty of perjury":
  • The total number of homes the cable operator currently passes
  • The total number of homes the operator currently passes with 36 or more activated channels
  • The total number of subscribers
  • The total number of subscribers with 36 or more activated channels

While Martin had to compromise on the 70/70 front, Tuesday wasn't a total loss for his (anti?) cable agenda. The FCC still adopted an order that, according to Multichannel News, will force U.S. MSOs to cut leased access channel rates by 75 percent (about 10 cents per month), per subscriber. (See FCC Adopts Leased Access Rules.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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