FCC Moves to Update Cable Technical Rules

Chairman calls on cable operators to continue to boost broadband speeds, capacity, availability

The FCC voted unanimously on Friday to open a proceeding to
transition its analog cable signal-leakage and performance standards to
digital. The item will also weed out some long-inapplicable rules and make
other corrections.

Like its viewability order, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski
said at the FCC's public meeting, the vote to update those standards is a way
to clear away impediments to broadband capacity. The FCC is doing its part, he
said, and it will be imperative for cable operators to do theirs, he said,
which is to continue its ongoing expansion of speed, capacity and availability
of broadband.

The chairman gave cable credit for having improved its
speeds dramatically over the past several years, pointing out that while three
years ago, only 20% of subs had access to 100 Mbps speeds, that number today
was 80%. He called that real progress, but added that continued increase in
capacity are essential for all those broadband-centric applications like
distance learning and health care, as well as even more channels and services.

In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the commission will,
for the first time, apply digital interference standards that protect aerial
communications and navigation from cable signal leakage, and will apply minimum
performance standards for its signals to consumers.

Commissioner Robert McDowell suggested it was about time to
review those and other rules. He said the rules had been on the books for
decades, while technology and the marketplace passed them by. He pointed out
that the interference rules dated from 1984 and performance standards from
1992. He also pointed out that such reviews are not only a good idea, they are
the law.

McDowell said the video marketplace in general continued to
be in a state of evolution, and that given that content was being delivered on
all platforms, the technical rule changes would be setting standards not only
for current service but metrics for those in varying states of deployment and
those yet to be developed. As cable migrates to an all-IP world, he said the
commission needs to make sure regs don't place undue burdens on industry, cause
regulatory uncertainty, stifle innovation or exceed the FCC's legal authority.

Although the decision was unanimous, Commissioner Ajit Pai
had a couple of words of caution. The FCC is seeking comment on whether it
should factor consumer qualitative data into that measure. Pai said he did not
oppose that, but cautioned that it could be difficult to judge based on "the
eyes of millions of beholders." He also said some of the proposals could mean more
testing obligations for cable operators, and that he would review those to ensure
that the benefit outweighed the cost.

Pai also put in a plug for FCC movement on another digital
cable effort, allowing operators to encrypt their basic digital tier, something
the commission has proposed.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn called the proposals
"necessary and common-sense updates."

The FCC also voted unanimously to remove barriers to more
efficient wireless backhaul, which will help boost wireless broadband speeds,
which trail those of fixed broadband.