FCC Moves to Update Cable Technical Rules


The FCC voted unanimously on Friday to open a proceeding to transition its analog cable signal-leakage and performance standards to digital. The item will also weed out some long-inapplicable rules and make other corrections.

Like its viewability order, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said at the commission'ss public meeting, the vote to update those standards is a way to clear away impediments to broadband capacity. The FCC is doing its part, he said, and it will be imperative for cable operators to do theirs, he said, which is to continue its ongoing expansion of speed, capacity and availability of broadband.

The chairman gave cable credit for having improved its speeds dramatically over the past several years, pointing out that while three years ago, only 20% of subs had access to 100 Mbps speeds, that number today was 80%. He called that real progress, but added that continued increase in capacity are essential for all those broadband-centric applications like distance learning and health care, as well as even more channels and services.

In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the commission will, for the first time, apply digital interference standards that protect aerial communications and navigation from cable signal leakage, and will apply minimum performance standards for its signals to consumers.

Commissioner Robert McDowell suggested it was about time to review those and other rules. He said the rules had been on the books for decades, while technology and the marketplace passed them by. He pointed out that the interference rules dated from 1984 and performance standards from 1992. He also pointed out that such reviews are not only a good idea, they are the law.

McDowell said the video marketplace in general continued to be in a state of evolution, and that given that content was being delivered on all platforms, the technical rule changes would be setting standards not only for current service but metrics for those in varying states of deployment and those yet to be developed. As cable migrates to an all-IP world, he said the commission needs to make sure regs don't place undue burdens on industry, cause regulatory uncertainty, stifle innovation or exceed the FCC's legal authority.

Although the decision was unanimous, commissioner Ajit Pai had a couple of words of caution. The FCC is seeking comment on whether it should factor consumer qualitative data into that measure. Pai said he did not oppose that, but cautioned that it could be difficult to judge based on "the eyes of millions of beholders." He also said some of the proposals could mean more testing obligations for cable operators, and that he would review those to ensure that the benefit outweighed the cost.

Pai also put in a plug for FCC movement on another digital cable effort, allowing operators to encrypt their basic digital tier, something the commission has proposed.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn called the proposals "necessary and common-sense updates."

The FCC also voted unanimously to remove barriers to more efficient wireless backhaul, which will help boost wireless broadband speeds, which trail those of fixed broadband.