Cable Fine Indicates FCC Wants Punishment to Sting

WASHINGTON —The Federal Communications Commission was clearly serious in recently signaling that fines could be increased based on a company’s ability to pay.

The cable industry is getting the initial brunt of the financial blow. Two weeks ago, the commission fined the Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/Newhouse partnership $25,000 for failing to file proof of performance test and children’s TV programming records in a timely fashion.

The base fine is $10,000, but the FCC said it was more than doubling it, in part based on the companies’ financial means.

Earlier in the month, the FCC proposed a $25,000 fine against the TBS network for a simulated Emergency Alert System warning in a promo for Conan. At the time, the agency signaled it would likely be imposing larger than base fines, in some cases much larger, on companies with deeper pockets so that fi nes would not be treated as simply the cost of doing business.

In the case of the TWE-A/N partnership-owned Time Warner Cable system in Kansas City, Mo., the cable operator said it was unable to produce the information immediately on request because the employee in charge was on leave that day. The operator pointed out to the FCC that the information was produced only three days later. TWE-A/N also immediately set up a Web-based file system and said the violation was relatively minor and should be balanced against good faith efforts to comply.

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau disagreed. “The bureau sought to ensure that the forfeiture amount served as an effective deterrent and not simply a cost of doing business,” the commission repeated in the order. “For these reasons, the upward adjustment was appropriate. Moreover, even though Time Warner states that it quickly corrected the violation by consolidating the missing materials after the inspection, such corrective actions are expected and do not warrant mitigation of the forfeiture.”

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.