FCC Commissioners Seek Warren Communications Data

McDowell, Tate Question 71.4% Cable-Subscribership Figure

Republican Federal Communications Commission members Robert McDowell and Deborah Taylor Tate asked for data from Warren Communications after it was reported that they were the data the FCC used to determine that cable had reached a 71.4% subscribership figure.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin told The New York Times this week that the commission's latest video-competition report would show that the subscribership figure had passed the 70% benchmark that could trigger FCC regulation of the industry.

But after reading -- in Warren's own Communications Daily -- that the figures used by the FCC "aren't well-suited" to determining that 70% threshold, Tate and McDowell formally requested more information, saying that they were surprised at that figure given that previous FCC reports had put that figure at 60%.

In what sounded like a shot at Martin, the two said, "At least these two commissioners are indeed seeking the trustworthiness, truthfulness and visibility of the data in question."

The cable industry is concerned that Martin wants to use that data to buttress a host of cable regulations, from program unbundling to lowering leased-access rates to multicast must-carry.

The two commissioners suggested that they want to make sure that the figure is accurate before they sign off on the report. "The video-competition report we send to Congress each year is one of the most important reports this commission produces," they wrote to Warren managing editor Michael Taliaferro, "and we strive to ensure accuracy of the information.

In a statement, Warren defended its data, but also explained important caveats.

"Warren never provided any penetration rate figure, the company said in a statement. "The figure reported is an extrapolation from the only data that we did provide them -- namely that we have identified 67,121,560 cable subscribers and 94,181,431 homes passed. As far as we know, we are the only data gatherer who directly contacts each individual cable owner and cable system to gather data. As such, we believe ours is the best data available.

"However, not every cable owner or system responds to our requests for information, just as not every cable operator responds to the FCC requests for similar information. As a result, even though we believe we have data representing more than 96% of all cable subscribers, as Taliaferro said, this data is not well suited to determining whether the threshhold has been met. That’s up the FCC to decide."