The American Cable Association is recommending modest changes to a proposal by the NAB and NCTA – The Internet and Television Association to amend the FCC’s broadcast carriage election rules. Those parties represent the interests of large broadcasters and cable operators, and ACA seeks to ensure the proposal does not unduly burden small operators.
“ACA generally supports the NAB-NCTA plan, which includes some suggestions previously offered by ACA. But other components of the proposal would impose burdens on small providers without any offsetting benefit. The last thing this proposal should do is impose new burdens on the smallest cable operators that operate in only a few markets” ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said. “By adopting ACA’s modifications to the proposal, these concerns can be addressed.”
ACA, in comments filed on delayed basis due to the partial shutdown of the federal government, urged the FCC to modify the NAB-NCTA plan to take account of its impact on small operators before adopting it.
The NAB-NCTA proposal came in response to a request by the FCC for comment on whether and how to update the procedures by which broadcast television stations send notice of their carriage elections – either must-carry or retransmission consent – to cable operators every three years.
Under the NAB-NCTA proposal, beginning with the 2020 election cycle, broadcast stations would send a carriage election notice to cable operators only if their election changed from the previous cycle. If so, broadcasters would need to only send a single notice to each cable operator’s corporate headquarters, rather than to every one of its individual cable systems.
These notices would be sent via e-mail to an address specified by the cable operator and posted either in the operator’s online public inspection file or in an FCC database, and cable operators would be required to send an e-mail response confirming receipt of the broadcaster’s election notice.
ACA explained in its comments that the proposal would impose new burdens on cable operators, who would be required to designate and post an email address to an FCC database and send confirmation emails to broadcasters that utilize it. In theory, the corresponding benefit is to reduce their burden of processing election notices sent to each of their individual systems. For larger cable operators with dozens of systems or more, the benefits may outweigh the burdens. But for smaller cable operators with one system or a few systems, the reverse is true. In a rulemaking intended to minimize regulatory burdens, it makes no sense to adopt a proposal that imposes new burdens on entities least able to bear them.
In order to better balance the burdens and benefits for smaller cable operators, ACA offered the following recommendations:
The FCC and small cable operators need ample time to prepare for the new framework. Accordingly, broadcast stations that cannot identify a small system’s e-mail address in the FCC database in time for the next election deadline (in 2020) should send notice to that system operator via certified mail, as required under the current rules;
The FCC should not create regulatory disparity. Thus, if it chooses to continue allowing DBS providers to receive election notices from broadcasters by certified mail, it should allow cable operators that prefer to continue receiving notices by certified mail to do so as well.
The FCC should grant small cable operators the same relief it seeks to give broadcasters. Therefore, it should move forward with adopting comparable changes to rules that require cable operators to send notices to broadcasters via certified mail.