Martin: Fines Are In Play For Cable Ops

Comcast among operators that didn't provideo complete answers to inquiry about moving channels form analog to digital

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said Tuesday that cable operators who do not provide it with complete answers to its questions about moving channels from analog to digital could be fined, but also said the enforcement bureau had a "normal range of options." He added that he was not saying which option the FCC would chose.

"Obviously we always end up evaluating the specifics of what people end up providing, but I think that companies that did not provide sufficient answers would be subject to the commission's enforcement actions...That includes fines."

Martin said that some of the responses from cable operators did not appear to address the questions the FCC asked.

In a press scrum after an appearance at a Phoenix Center seminar in Washington where he talked about the inquiry, Martin specifically cited the response of top cable operator Comcast.

Martin drew a distinction between "most operators," who said they did not have all the information but were trying to get it--the FCC gave operators only 14 days to respond to the letters--and ones who said they weren't going to provide the information or provided longer narratives that "did not appear to address some of the factual, specific questions." Asked if he was talking about Comcast, he said "yes."

Comcast did not provide per-channel rate data or other contract information, for example, saying it would have taken 1,500 manhours (or woman hours, for that matter) to collect.

During his Phoenix Center presentation, Martin recounted the FCC's investigation into Comcast's management of BitTorrent traffic (the FCC concluded Comcast had violated its nondicsrimination principles). He said the company had denied using the management techniques it turned out to have used. Then, when he was asked about the inquiry into moving channels and operators who had not answered all the questions, Comcast came up again, at least obliquely.

"This is the very company who, not only denied things...but who did not answer our letters of inquiry in this

instance, where we were asking very basic question, for example about in which market have you taken programming off of expanded basic and moved it on to the digital basic package and in which markets have you continued to charge consumers the same amount despite that. And did you give consumers and local franchising authorities the proper notice."

Martin pointed out that the FCC had issued a protective order for operators' confidential contract information.

Asked whether the FCC would have the authority to force cable operators to move channels from digital back to analog, Martin said he was not sure. But he said that the FCC has taken action when operators fail to provide adequate notice of channel moves, but said: " I don't think we have done that in the past," though he said he was not sure there was a limit on the FCC's authority to do so in the future.