Cities Launch Battle Against FCC Cable Order

Apr 3, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Cities and counties are mounting a no-holds-barred fight against the Federal Communications Commission’s bid to limit their cable franchising authority, challenging the FCC in not one court but in three.

Three weeks after the FCC issued an order intended to spur cable competition and broadband deployment and curb cable-rate hikes, the local governments and some community groups accused the FCC of “an abuse of discretion, unsupported by evidence and in violation of the United States Constitution.”

Individual complaints were filed Tuesday in the 2nd, 3rd and 6th Circuit Courts of Appeal by the National Association of Counties, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers & Advisors and the Alliance for Community Media, with the National Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities also joining the charge.

The suits, which eventually will be consolidated, contend that the FCC exceeded its legal authority and violated federal administrative procedures and the Constitution.

They signal local officials’ concern about the impact of action originally presented by FCC chairman Kevin Martin as a way to rein in rising cable rates.

The local officials contend the FCC listened to phone company gripes about local government recalcitrance and overwhelming demands to make broad and far-reaching policy changes, without much probing of the complaints’ validity or the changes’ financial impact. Also, they said the FCC’s action was bad policy.

“The FCC order would lead to a tremendous reduction in the revenues received by local governments for use of their rights of way, as well as loss of cable services to many governmental buildings and schools,” the statement said. “[The FCC] would severely restrict the ability of local governments to protect their citizens, rights of way, community channels and public safety networks.”

The FCC order requires that cities act on franchise petitions within 90 days; limits the concessions cities can demand, the services that draw fees and the amount of the fees; and limits cities’ ability to demand new competitors serve all local areas.

Besides revenue losses, cities said the order could make the FCC the arbitrator of problems such as street tear-ups by cable providers.

Phone companies argue the rule is an appropriate response to cities making wild demands for facilities and equipment unrelated to telecommunications service during franchise negotiation.

An FCC spokesman said Tuesday that the agency stands by its action.

“We are comfortable that we acted within the authority we have and that the action will help new entrants with two very important policy goals, competition and broadband deployment,” he said.

(Editor: Horowitz)