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NCTA Calls On FCC To Rescind Letters Of Inquiry

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has called on FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to rescind the FCC's letters of inquiry to cable operators about their move of some channels from analog to digital tiers, calling the letters an abuse of the commission's process and a violation of the paperwork reduction act.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin Monday defended the FCC's enforcement bureau inquiry, which was prompted by a complaint to Congress from the Consumers Union, into whether cable operators were using the DTV transition to "confuse some consumers that they were going to have to go to a digital package as well."

Martin said the FCC was also concerned that cable operators were charging viewers more for less when they moved some channels from analog to digital without lowering the price.
In a letter to Martin and the other commissioners, NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow said NCTA would be glad to discuss the issue of cable's migration to digital with the commission, a migration McSlarrow says he believes to be "plainly in the public interest."

But he took issue with the FCC sending out notices of inquiry to 13 companies in order to obtain industry-wide information, saying a more general notice of inquiry or the FCC's annual video competition report were more appropriate venues. Since the 13 companies represent 86% of cable customers, said McSlarrow, the letters were a defacto notice of inquiry, but were released by the chairman alone "without input from the other commissioners," which would have been required of a notice of inquiry.

The FCC also gave cable operators only 14 days to respond, rather than the customary 30 days for an NOI.

McSlarrow says the letters seem not to be based on any specific allegations but on "unsupported" assertions in the Consumers Union complaint, assertions he says NCTA has already addressed.

McSlarrow also said the FCC's discussion with the press and leak of documents amounted to an FCC-generated publicity campaign. McSlarrow is on the record saying that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has it in for cable given the number of rulings, inquiries or policy positions the FCC has taken under Martin that the association sees as targeting its  business model.

"A broad fishing expedition involving substantially an entire industry is not a legitimate investigation but an information collection that is masquerading as an investigation," sais McSlarrow, and one that puts paperwork burdens on the industry without the requisite vetting of that burden per the Paperwork Reduction Act.