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Capital Watch - Broadcasting & Cable

Capital Watch

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Look Who's Squawking

Apparently, it's not just cable subscribers who think their fees are being jacked up. Cable operators
think the bills they pay to the FCC are going up way too fast.The NCTA is complaining that cable operators' annual regulatory fees will go up 6%, versus an average of 1.5% for all telecom providers overseen by the FCC.

Each system, if the fees are approved, would pay 70¢ per subscriber and $135 per satellite-relay license, up from 66¢ and $90, respectively, in 2003. That's too high, says NCTA legal chief Dan Brenner, given that the most expensive duty associated with regulating cable—reviewing rates for upper programming tiers—has almost entirely gone away.

A final insult, says NCTA, is that the FCC mandates that small cable systems base their individual subscriber counts on the Broadcasting & Cable Yearbook
(published by the owner of this magazine).
The $795 price for the 2004 edition is too high for small systems to afford, Brenner says, "especially when they have no other need for it in their operations." Thanks, Dan.

Stealing Time

Pay-TV operators shouldn't drag their feet chasing down programming pirates. KingVision, a provider of sports and other closed-circuit programming to bars, learned that lesson the hard way.

The U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia last week told that the company it couldn't legally collect damages from El Toro Bar in Pennsylvania, which screened a pirated broadcast of the April 1999 Evander Holyfield/Lennox Lewis heavyweight-title match.

The company didn't file the suit until June 2001, a couple of months too late for Pennsylvania's two-year statute of limitations on cable piracy. KingVision argued that the federal government's three-year limitation should have applied. But the court complained that KingVision gave no explanation for the delay and mused that any plausible reason for federal limitations to apply would be "difficult to imagine."

Boning Up on Biohazards

Let's hope broadcast journalists never need an emergency refresher on marburg, glanders, and rickettsiae. A new communications-law firm? No, just some of the deadly biological agents described in the Radio-Television News Directors Foundation's newly updated guide to biological-weapons attacks. Explanations of those viruses and other frightening terms and how to inform the public if they're ever used in a bio-attack are subject of a RTNDA's new guide, which also includes information on detection efforts, a list of emergency contacts, and other material. RTNDA says a John Hopkins University study showed lack of info contributed to panic on 9/11.

Growing pains

Even as Washington moves to relax media-ownership rules, Hispanic TV stations are calling for more
oversight.

Smaller Latino media companies and consumer activists are lobbying the FCC and Congress to declare Spanish-language programming a separate market from the overall media market. That would make it easier for antitrust regulators to block Hispanic media mergers. They're concerned with the size of two giants created by NBC's takeover of Telemundo and Univision's buyout of Spanish radio leader Hispanic Broadcasting.

They also want to protect the carriage rights of Hispanic programmers in the digital era.The new Independent Spanish Broadcasters Association is ramping up operations, and it has 20 dues-paying members.

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