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Smaller Operators Head to D.C. Armed With Big Policy Gains

Washington — The policy-driven ACA Summit in the nation’s capital March 28-30 will feature the new Federal Communications Committee chairman Ajit Pai as a speaker before cable and telecom operators spread out over the city to take their message to the agency and the Hill.

In some ways, they will be preaching to the converted.

The American Cable Association is coming off a string of victories at the FCC, most notably Pai and fellow Republican Michael O’Rielly’s successful effort to renew and expand the small business waiver from the FCC’s enhanced transparency rules that kicked in in January.

The ACA, which represents smaller, independent cable operators, had been pushing for the extension and expanding the carveout from systems of 100,000 subscribers or fewer to 250,000 or fewer. It got bipartisan support in Congress, and then Pai and O’Rielly delivered.

The chairman has also circulated an order granting the ACA’s petition that it modify the Charter Communications- Time Warner Cable overbuild condition so that the mandatory buildouts don’t have to include 1 million high-speed overbuilds.

ACA members in the potential path of those overbuilds were not happy about the condition, and the ACA let the FCC know it.

While at press time the item had not been adopted, that may only be because all three commissioners have to vote an item on circulation. Pai is clearly on board, and O’Rielly dissented from that and other conditions when the deal was approved — his office would not confirm his vote, but it almost certainly will be to jettison the condition.

Asked what the ACA will be pushing for in the new administration, Matt Polka, the association’s president, signaled the group would be pushing for “Congress to address government and private-sector barriers that hinder broadband deployment, apply light-touch regulation to the provision of broadband Internet access service and provide targeted support to encourage broadband deployment in unserved areas.”

The ACA would also like to see “new policies that modernize video regulations that also serve to spur broadband investment and deployment.” The ACA has argued for retrans reforms and preventing what it sees as unfair carriage contract provisions, like bundling, but that will be a much tougher ask from the Pai FCC, given the chairman’s past issues with stepping into contract issues.

The FCC’s new majority members will both be in the speakers’ lineup at the ACA event. O’Rielly is scheduled to speak March 29 at 1:15 p.m. and Pai March 30 at 8 a.m.

Also scheduled to be on the dais: Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.), March 29 at 8:30 a.m.; Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), March 29 at 10 a.m.; and House Republican Conference chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), March 29 at noon.