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FCC Ponders Axing Cable Programming Financial Interest Reporting Mandate

The FCC is seeking comment on whether to scrap a cable reporting requirement the FCC majority suggests is likely no longer necessary. 

The commission voted Friday (Feb. 28) to ask whether it could scrap the mandate that cable operators have to maintain a record in their FCC public file of their financial interests in any video programming services and their carriage of any of those services on their systems. 

That is just the latest in FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's Media Modernization initiative, in fact number 20 on that "regulatory hit" parade. 

The Media Bureau, which was recommending adoption of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment, called that reporting mandate a recordkeeping rule meant to comply with channel occupancy limits that were thrown out by a court almost two decades ago, so "the Commission is seeking comment on whether there is any remaining purpose for these recordkeeping rules, whether there are other potential sources for similar information, the burdens this requirement places on cable operators, and possible modifications to the rules," it said. 

FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, who had recommended looking into scrapping the requirement, suggested it was ugly wallpaper left over from another era that was in need of removing. O'Rielly said that even if the information is determined to be useful, which he says he seriously doubts, the FCC needs to find a better way to get it short of requiring cable operators to "stockpile it by default." 

Commissioner Starks only concurred in the decision, which is approval but short of full-throated support. He said that was because the FCC had never addressed the court's 2002 remand of the channel occupancy item after it was reversed. He said the vote to eliminate the reporting requirement when the FCC had never responded to the court remand felt like sweeping the issue under the rug. 

Pai pointed out that the fact that there had been no response signaled that seven FCC chairs, Democratic and Republican, had concluded there was no need to do so. He also pointed out they were only voting to seek comment on whether or not it served any useful purpose.