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Cable Operators Say FCC's New Data-Collection Form on Competition is Unnecessary, Burdensome

Cable operators have told the FCC that its proposed new data-collection form on cable competition would be an un-necessarily burdensome route to the same destination, which is that cable has not reached the so-called 70/70 threshold that could trigger new government regulation of the industry.

In a filing with the FCC Tuesday, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said that "No survey is necessary to prove that a variety of competitors have substantially eroded and continue to erode - the share of the video distribution marketplace that traditional cable operators serve."

The FCC came to that same basic conclusion in January, releasing a long-overdue report that concluded that while cable does pass more than 70% of households-a fact cable readily concedes-it had not met the second part of that test, which is that 70% of those households subscribe to cable.

The figure is something below 60%, said NCTA.

Under then FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, the FCC tentatively concluded that the 70/70 test had been met, but based on a single source of data. That conclusion never reached the report after it was widely criticized. But in releasing the report Jan. 16, just as Martin was heading for the exit, the FCC proposed a new form that would collect more data, including from smaller cable operators.

NCTA said that would be an unnecessary burden on smaller operators, arguing that "based on the data that the Commission already collects, it is mathematically impossible for those small systems that do not report Form 325 data [the FCC's current form] materially to change the outcome" of the 70/70 test. "Even if every household passed by cable systems with fewer than 20,000 subscribers subscribed to those systems, cable penetration would still be well below the
70% threshold," said NCAT.

The American Cable Association, which represents smaller operators, agreed that the added paperwork was a "significant financial and administrative burden" at a time when they didn't need the drain on limited resources. "Providing the historical data being sought by the Commission will be impossible for many smaller cable systems, and very expensive and time consuming for others," said ACA President Matthew Polka in a statement.

NCTA also says the form's request for data on unoccupied and seasonal homes is the wrong way to go, and not as easily collected as the FCC suggests.

It also is concerned about the form's request for a total sub as well as video sub figure, arguing that the former, which includes phone and Internet customers, is irrelevant.