Washington -- Deborah Lathen, chief of the FCC's Cable
Services Bureau, last week disputed a report that FCC officials are at odds over how to
handle leftover complaints when rate regulation expires March 31.
The report, published in the Feb. 22 edition of Multichannel
News, said a battle had erupted in the Federal Communications Commission between those
who want to dismiss all pending cases and those who want to process them even though any
refund order would be effectively unenforceable after March 31.
Lathen, in an interview, said there was no battle mainly
because her staff was still evaluating the situation.
"We are studying the issue. We have made no decisions
and no recommendations," Lathen said.
Two weeks ago, Lathen declined an interview with Multichannel
News, saying through her spokesman that she did not care to comment because the
CSB's policy on pending rate complaints was still being developed.
She spoke to Mulitchannel News last week after
seeing the story and believing it left that the impression that she favored dismissing all
pending case because she did not have enough people in her bureau.
She said that she had not made up her mind and that she had
sufficient staff on hand to continue work on the complaints.
The FCC is expected to issue a public notice of some kind
in the weeks ahead to inform the cable industry about FCC policies after March 31, when
the agency's authority to cap upper tier rates and order refunds for violations is to
Some in Congress, spurred on by Gene Kimmelman, Washington
office co-director of Consumers Union, have advocated eliminating the sunset, but the
cable lobby has managed to blunt that effort.
Last week, testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee,
Kimmelman urged lawmakers to "embark on a true war on monopoly," referring to
the cable industry.
The FCC has more than 500 rate cases pending. Some in the
FCC believe that processing the complaints after March 31 would be futile because
operators would be free to recover immediately any refund order issued by the FCC.
Others claim that the law requires the FCC to process all
valid complaints, whether or not a refund order would be rendered moot by the March 31
The FCC adopted a rule in April 1996 stating that it would
not accept any rate complaints after March 31.
Since 1993, the FCC has ordered operators to pay $97.3
million in refunds.
Although the FCC may no longer regulate upper tier rates,
local governments have the authority to regulate basic tier rates unless incumbent
operators obtain an order from the FCC that they are subject to effective competition.