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Markey sees high cost in FCC delay

The Federal Communications Commission’s decision to delay a rollback in cable TV prices will cost consumers between $ 250 million and $ 300 million, the Consumer Federation of America and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) charged Wednesday.

CFA legislative director Gene Kimmelman called the FCC action”stupid” and “unconscionable,” and he urged the agency to reconsider its decision. Markey, meanwhile, plans to question all three FCC commissioners at an oversight hearing today.

In April, the FCC promised to roll back cable rates as much as $ 1 billion nationwide, and said that it would begin accepting consumer complaints of overcharges beginning June 21.

The FCC last Friday postponed that date until Oct. 1, claiming it needs emergency funding from Congress to hire the staff needed to carry out the cable reregulation law.

Kimmelman said that by delaying the effective date of the rules by more than three months, the FCC has in effect handed the cable industry a “gift” of $ 300 million.

That’s because the agency ruled in April that most cable operators are overcharging customers by at least 10%.

By postponing rules designed to roll back excessive rates, the FCC is allowing the overcharges to continue for those three months without having any chance to recover the coin, Kimmelman said.

Markey agreed with Kimmelman’s analysis, although he said in a statement that the loss to consumers will be $ 250 million.

“Cable consumers were lured into believing that relief was on its way to the tune of $ 1 billion by the sweet siren song of the FCC,” said Markey. “Now, consumers who were counting on the cable bill to combat the cruel hegemony that cable companies have exploited must wait some more.”

Bradley Stillman, legislative counsel with CFA, said the FCC should stick with its June 21 complaint filing deadline.

He said that even if the FCC doesn’t have the staff to deal with the complaint for several months, it would be “justice delayed rather than justice denied.”

Kimmelman said CFA has even offered to do all the photocopying of overcharge complaint forms the FCC will eventually send to cable customers. Kimmelman also said the FCC “ought to put in the closet” all of its other priorities and shift its entire staff to carrying out the cable bill.

Interim FCC chairman James Quello Wednesday defended the agency’s decision to seek the delay. Proceeding with the June 21 deadline would have led to “chaos and confusion among subscribers, cable operators and franchising authorities, and (resulted) in numerous legal challenges,” he said.

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