FCC Postpones Decision On New Regs For Cable TV - InformationWeek

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01:21 PM

FCC Postpones Decision On New Regs For Cable TV

A split among commissioners has caused the FCC to seek more data on the structure of the cable TV industry before it acts on new rules.

The Federal Communications Commission has backed away from an effort by its chairman to impose new regulations on the cable television industry.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told reporters Tuesday that the commission would not vote on a report concluding that the cable industry met certain thresholds that could trigger new regulations aimed at supporting competition.

The 70/70 rule in the 1984 Cable Act states that when 70% of American homes can access cable, with at least 36 channels, and 70% of those with access subscribe, the FCC can impose new regulations to ensure competition.

The move by Martin to consider new regulations split the commission, which met most of the day Tuesday in executive session. Martin has said he believes the 70/70 threshold had been met. Several minority groups and cable companies disagreed and criticized reports that Martin was moving to change the cable industry by requiring a la carte offerings.

While the 70/70 rule was adopted to ensure competition, minority groups said a la carte offerings would destroy the business model that supports minority channels, hurting minorities, rural voters, and consumers.

Cable companies said new regulations would lead to increased prices and decreased consumer choice. Consumer groups, however, back the idea of a la carte offerings.

Observers expected a vote on the issue Tuesday. Instead the FCC (PDF) will seek additional data from cable companies. That means no changes are likely until next year, at the earliest.

Martin's initial plan was based on a single, hotly disputed report. Critics said Martin was trying to circumvent the legislative process and go against Congress' wishes. After several federal lawmakers also complained, Martin agreed to allow cable companies to provide additional reports, expanding the number of sources the commission relies on when it revisits the issue.

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