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PEG-Related Bill Restoring Cable Franchise Reg Reintroduced

Capitol Building

A bill billed as protecting public, educational and government (PEG) channels has been reintroduced by a host of congressional Democrats.

The Protecting Community Television Act would "clarify" that the 5% cap on a cable franchise fee applies only to monetary "assessments" and not in-kind contributions.

“Throughout the ongoing pandemic, viewers in Massachusetts and across the country have relied on community media to stay safe, healthy, and informed,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). “I’m proud to re-introduce the Protecting Community Television Act because, in this era of increased media consolidation and globalization, it is critical that we preserve the PEG operations that lift up local voices and air the programming that is most relevant to the lives of our family members and neighbors."

Joining in the bill's re-introduction Thursday (Dec. 9) were Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

The FCC under then chairman Ajit Pai, and with the backing of NCTA, voted in 2019 that non-cash exactions from cable operators by local franchise authorities were indeed fees subject to the 5% cap. A federal appeals court upheld that decision in May of this year.

As an example of one of those non-cash exactions that needed to count toward the fee, the court noted, was "a demand by St. Louis that a cable operator contribute 20 percent of its stock to the city."

The FCC voted along party lines in August 2019 to hold that in-kind services or equipment cable local franchising authorities (LFAs) require those cable operators to provide a part of their franchise agreement must count toward the FCC's 5% (of cable revenues) cap on franchise fees charged by the LFAs. It also preempted state or local franchise regs that conflicted with those conclusions and extended its rules to state as well as local franchises.

Franchising authorities had challenged a 2019 FCC order, with NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, which pushed for the FCC order, weighing in on the side of the FCC.

The Protecting Community Television Act, which was first introduced in 2020 following the FCC decision under Pai, would make it clear that a franchise fee cap is only on money, not in-kind services, so as to prevent what the legislators said was an LFA having to choose between funding public, educational and government channels (PEG) and other services for critical institutions like schools or libraries.

Bill co-sponsors include Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

Not surprisingly, the bill has the support of National Association of Counties and the National League of Cities. ■

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.