FCC’s Video-Competition Report Sees Growth from New Players

Agency Releases Full Text of 372-Page Opus

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission on Monday issued its full video-competition report — all 372 pages worth — and, as reported last week, found satellite-TV and online providers making inroads and a general downward trend in cable subscriptions.

The 15th annual survey stems from the 1992 Cable Act, in which Congress directed the FCC to provide an annual assessment on “the status of competition in the market for the delivery of video programming.” The agency has not always met that annual timetable, however.

The report generally does not draw conclusions on the competitiveness of the marketplace and this report followed that format, though it did point to what it said were the most significant trends of "the continuing development, and consumer usage, of time-shifted and location-shifted viewing of video programming, the expansion of digital and high-definition programming, and the progress of the online video industry."

A notable exception to that conclusion-free assessment came in 2007, during the tenure of FCC chairman Kevin Martin, when the 2006 annual report concluded that cable had reached the so-called 70/70 threshhold, which could have triggered new cable regulations. That threshold was met when cable systems with more than 36 channels passed 70% of households, with 70% of those homes passed subscribing to cable.

The FCC finally issued the 2006 report in 2009, concluding cable had not met the 70% subscriber threshold. It then had to play catch-up on the reports from 2007 through 2009.

The American Cable Association praised the FCC for acknowledging that cable subscribers were on the wane.

 “ACA commends the Federal Communications Commission for acknowledging in its 15th Annual Video Competition Report that the number of cable systems operating nationwide is decreasing, and for including evidence that hundreds of small cable systems have ceased offering service in their communities," the group, which represents smaller, independent cable operators, said in a statement. "Although the report indicates that the FCC has not collected data on the reasons why these cable systems have ceased operations, it acknowledges that small systems lack scale economies enjoyed by larger competitors."