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FCC Limits Expansion of Alternate Annual Notice Options

While the FCC this week granted cable operators' request that they have the freedom to deliver annual subscriber notices by email, it did not grant their further request that it give them the flexibility to use an alternative means.

Those annual notices must include, among other things, "products and services offered, prices and options for programming services and conditions of subscription to programming and other services; installation and service maintenance policies, instructions on how to use the cable service; channel positions of programming carried on the system; and billing and complaint procedures, including the address and telephone number of the local franchise authority's cable office."

NCTA–The Internet & Television Association and the American Cable Association, in petitioning for a declaratory ruling that the annual notices could be electronic, also asked if they could include in customer bills a link to where the annual information could be found or some other method “reasonably calculated to reach the individual customer."

The FCC concluded that the "reasonably calculated" standard was too broad, too vague, would be tough to implement, would create an "undue risk that subscribers will not receive the required notices" and could obscure the fact that the notices are not part of the regular bill. "We find it unnecessary to complicate the means by which cable operators may comply with the annual notice rule by approving this additional catchall standard," the FCC said.

Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, commenting on the decision in a statement, suggested that there could be an acceptable alternative method—for example, "allowing for distribution to a customer's online account instead of via e-mail."

He also said the FCC might also consider allowing retransmission consent elections to move to email as well.

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.