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Weekly News From the President: Federal Assault on Local Media and Municipalities Continues

Federal Assault on Local Media and Municipalities Continues

The FCC is continuing its assault on local communities and local media. The FCC has announced two agenda items for its September 26th meeting that will cripple city and county budgets and perhaps defund franchise fees.

The more immediate Order would bar localities from charging rent for the use of the Public Right of Way for wireless infrastructure siting (read the Order here).

The impact?  Cities and counties will lose billions (with a B) in potential revenue as more and more telecommunications go wireless. The future will be foreclosed for communities that want to support local media and digital inclusion with those fees (or even just pave their roads!).  Once the order is issued, the cable industry will want relief from franchise fees as well.  This will increase the political pressure to change the Cable Act in Congress.

Expect our allies in local government to issue a legal challenge against the Order this fall.  If your local government is concerned about money and controlling its infrastructure, you should let them know that they should get involved in those challenges.

At the same time, the FCC is issuing an attack on cable franchising itself by opening a back door for the industry to drain revenue away from locals.  Since 2008, ACM has been fighting against the so-called 621 Orders which severely limit what kind of support cable companies can agree to when they get the right to use public property to make a lot of money (again with a B, that’s billions).  Last year, the courts said the FCC was acting in an arbitrary and capricious fashion by outlawing “in-kind” contributions, things like free cable drops to schoolrooms and cable discounts to senior citizens, without defining what “in-kind” means.

We asked the FCC to let the matter lie after they lost in court – but they are at it again.  Now they want to claim that anything of value – ANYTHING – that’s not monetary that you receive in a cable franchise is an “in-kind” contribution and can be charged against franchise fees at “fair market value”.

Let me repeat:  Anything.

Back haul services from your studio to their head-end.  That’s already happening in some states.

Electronic Program Guide access.  Check on that as well.

Advertising inserts on channels that are done at excess capacity? Another “free” thing you have to pay for.

How about the channel capacity itself?  Perhaps.  If this were allowed, you would see franchise fees disappear in the US overnight.

This clearly is not the plain definition of “in-kind” contributions and most people agree its nonsensical when you describe it hypothetically: Let me give you a gift because I have extra capacity or the ability to do so out of convenience (and oh by the way expect me to give you a bill for my “gift” next month).

We’ll continue to fight this every step of the way to protect you and your community.

The good news is the FCC is putting this nonsensical position in a Further Notice of Rule Making so we all can argue the facts and law on the matter.

Be prepared to be involved in this battle by looking at your situation and putting together a description that can be used to talk about the impact of such a ruling.  ACM will be preparing comments for our field and we’ll need your involvement to make our case this fall.

Mike Wassenaar
President & CEO
The Alliance for Community Media