Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler is used to push back from GOP lawmakers, but this week, more than a dozen Democratic senators are pushing back on an FCC proposal to revamp cable regulation.
Democrats argue that an FCC rule proposed in March would give regulatory relief to all cable operators, large and small, rather than just for smaller operators as spelled out in a satellite bill passed at the end of 2014.
If the proposed rule is implemented, all cable systems will be assumed to have “effective competition” for their services in local markets. If all cable systems are deemed to have competition, then local franchising authorities would no longer have the power to set basic cable rates in their municipalities or require that a cable system provide public access, educational or governmental access channels as a public service.
In two letters, one from Senator Leahy (Vt.) and the second from Sens. Al Franken (Minn.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and nine others took issue with the proposed rule as a way for the FCC to implement Section 111 of the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014. The Section 111 calls on the FCC to streamline the process for small cable operators to file petitions for finding that they do indeed have “effective competition.”
“Unfortunately, rather than focusing on reforms targeting the specific needs of these small cable operators, the commission’s proposal to implement Section 111 goes beyond Congress’ stated intent, providing unnecessary regulatory benefits to large cable companies,” wrote Leahy.
“We are concerned about the impact this proposal could have on cable consumers, especially those who rely on affordable access to local stations for news, weather, sports and emergency information,” wrote Franken. “We ask that the FCC reconsider its proposal and instead pursue the administrative changes that Congress passed as they were intended to be implemented.”
The senators are not alone in their opposition to the proposed rule making. Among the groups voicing support for the current effective competition rules: the Alliance for Community Media, American Community Television, Common Cause, Consumer Action, , National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors and Public Knowledge, and the United Church of Christ.
“NAB [National Association of Broadcasters] is pleased that such a large number of influential Senators have joined nearly a dozen progressive advocacy groups to preserve effective competition rules for large cable operators. These rules are essential in ensuring that popular news, entertainment, and lifeline local TV programming will remain available on the basic tier of most cable systems at affordable rates,” said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of communications for the broadcasters.