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FCC: Cable Inquiry Does Not Violate Law

The FCC fired back Wednesday in a battle over how cable is migrating to digital.

A spokeswoman for FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told B&C that the commission's mailing of letters to 13 cable companies does not violate the Paperwork Reduction Act and, rather than being a broad inquiry masquerading as a targeted one, as cable forces claim, is an official government request for information based on complaints received from cable subscribers about the specific companies involved.

She also said cable operators need to respond to those requests by Thursday night.

Responding to assertions in aletter from National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin that the FCC inquiry was violating FCC processes and federal paperwork reduction laws, FCC spokeswoman Edie Herman said that was not the case.

"We want to reiterate that we have received a number of complaints against all of the companies who received those letters," she told B&C, "and those complaints have increased in the past month. Customers were complaining about channels being moved from analog to digital," she said, "and the related impact on cable bills.”

Herman said that it was both a complaint from Consumers union to Congress and those existing complaints that prompted the letters to be sent to the cable companies, a process she said had been in the works before the Consumers Union complaint was lodged.

Herman emphasized that the operators needed to respond to the FCC letters by midnight Thursday night, or the issue would be referred to the enforcement bureau. She would not speculate on what actions the bureau might take, but they could include requests for even more info, warnings or even fines.

As to whether the request for information violated the Paperwork Reduction Act? "It is clearly not in violation of the act," she said, because it does not ask broad, sweeping questions of a large number of companies, but rather asks a small group of companies about specific matters related to complaints received about those specific companies.

FCC Chairman Martin earlier this week defended the inquiry to reporters, saying the FCC was concerned that cable operators were charging viewers more for less when they moved some channels from analog to digital without lowering the price.

McSlarrow Wednesday called the inquiry "a broad fishing expedition...masquerading as an investigation."