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Mandel: Eliminating an Obsolete Regulation at the FCC (Updated)

By / 6.11.2015

Update (6/11/15): PPI applauds the FCC’s adoption of the “effective competition” order on June 2 (explained below). This order acknowledges the reality that on most cable systems, the video channels subject to “effective competition” from other providers, both satellite and landline. The FCC order says in part: “As a result, each franchising authority will be prohibited from regulating basic cable rates. unless it successfully demonstrates that the cable system is not subject to Competing Provider Effective Competition.”

This is not the FCC making new law…rather, this is the FCC enforcing the provisions of existing law, which clearly states the conditions under which basic cable service rates can be freed from local regulation.  Given the importance of eliminating or rewriting outmoded regulations wherever possible, the FCC has done the right thing.


 

5/13/15

PPI favors the elimination or rewriting of outmoded regulations wherever possible. We believe that clearing the deadwood of obsolete rules is a win-win for consumers, workers, and businesses, allowing regulators to focus limited resources on more important issues while freeing companies to innovate faster.

That’s why we strongly favor FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to streamline the “effective competition” rule for cable video providers. Cable television has long been one of the most regulated industries in the economy, including regulation of their rates by local authorities. The justification for such price controls—not acceptable for most industries—was the lack of meaningful competition from other video providers.

But the world has changed. Today many if not most cable video systems face a wide range of competitors from satellite providers such as DISH and telecom companies such as AT&T and Verizon, not to mention new internet-based video services such as Netflix and Amazon.

The legislation governing cable operators allows them to be relieved of some regulatory burdens—including rate regulation by local authorities–if the FCC rules that they face “effective competition.” The legislation includes several possible tests for effective competition, including a satellite video provider or other competitor having 15% of the pay video market, or if a phone company is offering video service in the area.

These hurdles are not hard to reach, given the prevalence of satellite and other video competitors. As a result, the FCC has ruled in favor of effective competition on almost all the hearings on this subject since 2013.

Nevertheless, up to now, cable video companies have had to go through a long and burdensome process to get regulatory relief. That is why Wheeler is proposing to simplify the process by adapting it to market realities. Challengers would have to demonstrate that effective competition did not exist in a particular location. The net result is that a larger number of cable video providers would have greater freedom to compete and innovate.

Given the amount of competition to cable, it is unlikely that cable video rates would suddenly jump. After all, with the prevalence of alternatives, and subscriber growth having topped out, why should cable companies drive away customers?

We have had disagreements with Chairman Wheeler, particularly around the Open Internet issue. But on this issue, his approach to cleaning up the regulatory process makes excellent sense for both consumers and companies.