ACA's Gessner Testifies on FCC Waiver Bill

The House Energy & Commerce Communications Subcommittee held a legislative hearing on a number of communications bills, tapping American Cable Association chairman Robert Gessner, president of MCTV, for his take on H.R. 3787, the Small Entity Regulatory Relief Opportunity (SERRO) Act of 2017.

Gessner said it would help his members and consumers, as did its Republican sponsor, but Democrats were concerned it was carving out some providers from consumer protections, and not even necessarily smaller providers.

The bill, pointed out co-author Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), would direct the FCC to streamline its small entity waiver process Gessner, who was already in town for ACA's annual summit in Washington, said the bill would "help reduce the cost of regulatory compliance and allow small entities to better meet the unserved and underserved needs of millions of customers in thousands of small communities throughout the country."

Gessner was asked by Latta about federal overregulation's impact on small business and how the bill might benefit his business and, importantly, his customers.

Gessner said when MCTV converted from an analog to an all-digital system in 2010, he realized they could not complete FCC-required analog signals because they had no more analog signals to test. They went to the time and expense of requesting a waiver from testing but got "radio silence" from the FCC for seven years.

If the bill had been the law then, he said, "we could have been spared that seven years of regulatory certainty because SERRO would have required at least three triennial reviews where they would have had to address analog testing requirements for all-digital systems.

Gessner said the FCC's one size fits all regs often don't fit smaller entities who are not the cause of the specific harms being targeted. He said in theory the FCC waiver policy allows smaller entities to seek waivers, but in practice deters such efforts because of the cost and uncertainty.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said the language about what constitutes "small entity" was ambiguous, and would cover systems with millions of subs, which she said did not sound like small to her.

Sarah Morris from the Open Technology Institute shared Eshoo's concerns about an overbroad definition that could exclude millions of consumers from protections that they need.

She said the bill would give one-year waivers to rules of general applicability. Eshoo said the bill's language needed to be "tightened up." She said the intent seemed to be to "waive everything." Eshoo called it a Trojan Horse for weakening consumer protections with small companies not having to play by the same rules.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.