FCC seeks OK for cable rate delay

The Federal Communications Commission seeks congressional blessing for its plan to delay rollbacks on cable rates until Oct. 1.

The request came in the form of a telephone call Thursday from interim FCC chairman James Quello to House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.).

The FCC, under the authority of the 1992 Cable Act, was to begin on June 21 forcing cable operators to roll back rates as much as 15%, as part of its rate regulation proceeding. That action would not be launched until October under Quello’s new plan.

It is believed that the FCC doesn’t need formal congressional approval for the delay. Rather, Quello is thought to be using Dingell as a sounding board for congressional reaction to the delay.

The call to Dingell was made despite action this week by the Senate appropriations committee, which provided the FCC $ 11.5 million in emergency money to carry out the cable reregulation legislation.

Quello’s call to Congress came the day after the National Cable Television Assn. convention ended.

At that San Francisco meet, the FCC and congressional staffers faced hostile cable operators who complained about both the reregulation legislation and the FCC’s rapid timetable for carrying out the bill.

Small cable operators in particular are livid over the complexity of the rate regulation rules, which will take effect June 21 unless a stay is issued. Small operators complained that they could face bankruptcy if the new rules take effect that date.

Quello hailed the appropriations committee’s approval of emergency funds as “the first positive thing we’ve heard” from Congress. However, he noted the funding request still needs to be approved by the full House and Senate before the FCC gets its hands on the coin.

Even if the money is forthcoming, the FCC “will need to hire people and train them” to carry out the cable bill, Quello said. A delay until October is needed to give the agency “a chance to fine-tune” the bill, he said.

A delay in implementing the cable bill would provoke anger in some quarters. Consumer Federation of America legislative counsel Bradley Stillman noted that the FCC has promised to roll back cable rates as much as $ 1.5 billion nationwide as a result of the rereg legislation.

Delaying the rate cuts will prompt “consumer outrage,” Stillman said.

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