AOL Time Warner Inc. and other vertically integrated cable companies could face new
battles over their ability to own both programming and cable systems or over
other restrictions floated by opponents of media concentration.
The Federal Communications Commission raised the prospect quietly in last
week's inquiry into video-programming competition.
For its 2003 report, the commission wants to know if cable subscribership has
passed the "70/70 trigger" that empowers the FCC to impose "any additional rules
necessary to promote diversity of information sources."
The Communications Act gives the FCC that power when 70% of U.S. homes are
passed by cable systems offering at least 36 channels and 70% of those homes
"There's plenty of room for mischief here," Washington cable attorney
Frank Lloyd said. The trigger had not been met in 2000 -- the last time the FCC weighed
in on the 70/70 test.
Data culled from the 2002 competition report found that nearly 98% of homes were
passed by cable but only 67% of them had subscribed.
The FCC is also trying to resolve disputes over the calculation of homes
passed, which, depending on how it is resolved, conceivably could trip the 70/70