FCC Proposes Maintaining 30% Cable Cap

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FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is proposing maintaining the cable ownership cap at 30%. That is according to Rudy Brioche, adviser to FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, and confirmed by a second FCC source.

On a panel at the Cable Television Affairs Forum in Washington, Brioche said that the chairman's office has circulated the order, which sets the cap at 30% of pay TV households, although it is separating out the issue of what percentage stake in a cable company will represent an attributable interest and in a futher notice of proposed rulemaking. 

Brioche pointed out that a couple dozen items have been circulated among the commissioners in advance of an FCC oversight hearing Wednesday in the House Telecommunications and Internet subcommittee.

But while the FCC may be getting a bunch of work done before all the commissioners defend their agency before Congress, don't look for the long-awaited report on TV violence actually requested by Congress to be issued before the hearing. Cristina Pauzé, legal adviser to FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, said that the commissioners were still working on it and there was no deadline beyond the 2004 deadline from Congress that the FCC has missed by three years and counting.

Asked by moderator and cable attorney Frank Lloyd about the FCC's decision not to grant cable operators a waiver of a July 1 ban on integrated digital set-top boxes , which the industry has appealed to the full commission. Brioche said that, generally speaking, "the FCC" means what the chairman and bureaus do.

He said Commissioner Adelstein had not been consulted and had not reviewed the decision by the media bureau. He said Wednesday's oversight hearing could be a first chance to vet it. Pauze said the hearing would also be Commissioner McDowell's first chance to tackle the issue, but said he generally favors a marketplace solution and hopes that the downloadable security the cable industry is working on will be the solution.

Cable's beef is that while it is working on that online approach to separating out the security and channel surfing functions, the FCC is holding to a July 1 deadline for separation. That separation will require a hardware fix since the downloadable system won't be ready for widespread implementation.

Pauze said the commission is taking a look at the retransmission consent issue to see whether broadcasters increased push for cash for station carriage is a bump in the road or a shift in the equation, though she said that Congress would probably have to be the one to make any changes. Brioche said that the system appeared to be generally working and that broadcasters muscle-flexing might be a response to the change from when Congress was giving stations more leverage with "cable monopolies"--the roomful of cable operators was quieted by that characterization--to a marketplace with more competition.


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