Comcast Questions FCC’s Efficiency

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Comcast pointed out that the Federal Communications Commission’s interest in speeding phone-company entry into local video markets seems to clash with the plodding pace at which the agency is reviewing pending cable requests for action.

In a Dec. 11 letter filed at the FCC, Comcast claimed that the FCC has sat on at least five Comcast “petitions for effective competition” for more than two years and that the agency failed to act on Comcast’s major set-top box waiver request within the 90-day window mandated by federal law.

“Sometimes the [FCC] itself has taken longer to process straightforward applications and other petitions, even where deadline exists,” Comcast’s three-page letter said.

Comcast’s physician-heal-thyself tone was a rare slap at the powerful regulatory body, and it could be a sign that the largest U.S cable operator will no longer disguise its frustration with Republican FCC chairman Kevin Martin, who is attempting to placate AT&T and Verizon on video policy.

Petitions for effective competition, if granted, remove price controls on the basic programming tier. The agency is under no deadline to act on such petitions. Comcast has asked the FCC to shield low-cost set-tops from the July 1,

2007 ban on the deployment of new integrated set-top boxes.

Comcast and local governments are fighting Martin’s proposal that would, among other things, force local governments to conclude franchise contracts with phone companies within 90 days. Cable operators and municipal organizations claim the FCC lacks the authority to impose a shot clock on negotiations.

Martin’s plan, which has not been publicly released, would also allow phone, but not cable, companies to reduce the cash portion of franchise fees paid to local governments.

“.... The [FCC] does not have the authority to undertake such significant revisions of the local franchising process,” Comcast said.

In speech last week, Martin said the agency had sufficient authority to act.

Assisting phone company entry into video by removing regulatory barriers would speed broadband deployment and lower cable rates, he said.

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