Washington Watch


Court Denies FCC Request to Hold Net-Neutrality Challenge in Abeyance

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will proceed to
scheduling briefs in the telco challenge to the Federal Communications Commission’s
network-neutrality rules.

The court last week denied the FCC’s request to hold appeals of its networkneutrality
rules in abeyance until it acted on a petition to reconsider the rule.

Verizon and MetroPCS challenged the rules in court, but they were also challenged
at the FCC by Southern Company Services over the issue of specialized services
and their lessened protection under the net-neutrality rules.

While the court will not wait for the FCC to decide whether it was correct to provide
the specialized services carve-out, it did refer the commission’s petition to
dismisss the case to the three-judge panel scheduled to hear arguments.

The court decision allows the Verizon Communications/MetroPCS court challenge
to proceed; the next step is setting a briefing schedule.

The FCC in December 2010 voted to expand and codify its Internet-openness
guidelines, but the vote did not take effect until last fall, after which Verizon and
MetroPCS went to court and Southern sought reconsideration.

FCC Tees Up Periodic Review of Program Access

WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commission
chairman Julius Genachowski said last Wednesday
(Feb. 29) the agency will launch the review of its
program-access rules at its March 21 open meeting.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will “explore”
whether to keep, jettison or relax prohibitions on
exclusive contracts or whether to revise them to “better
address alleged violations,” according to an announcement
from the chairman.

The FCC voted in 2007 to extend the rules fi ve
more years, with the deadline for renewal coming
up in October of this year. Without that renewal, the
rules sunset per congressional directive.

The program-access rules require that cable operator-
owned programming networks be made available
to satellite and wired competitors.

In 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
denied a Cablevision challenge to the program-access rules, saying the FCC had
not been arbitrary and capricious to renew the rules in 2007, but also saying that by
the 2012 deadline, it might be time for the ban on exclusive contracts to end.

Cable Ops Push FCC for Tier-1 Encryption

WASHINGTON — Top cable operators are pushing the Federal Communications Commission
to approve its proposed sunset of the ban on encrypting basic-digital service.

The FCC proposed the change in October but has not taken any action so far,
and cable operators are looking to goose the process a bit.

Both the FCC and cable operators agree the change would be consumer- and
eco-friendly since it would cut down on truck rolls, with installations and disconnects
done remotely.

In a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, a Who’s Who of National Cable
& Telecommunications Association members including Comcast, Time Warner
Cable, Cox Communications, Bright House Networks and Charter Communications,
cited fellow member Cablevision Systems as an example of their reasoning.
They noted that Cablevision got a waiver from the FCC in 2010 to encrypt basicdigital
service in New York and said it is now performing 99.5% of routine service
disconnects remotely. Encryption also helps prevent theft of service, they said.

The FCC last October proposed allowing basic-tier encryption of digital given that
the world is going digital and citing the consumer-friendliness of remote service and
the cable-friendliness of preventing theft of service.

They said the rule was pro-consumer — Genachowski has emphasized that the
FCC should be a consumer-focused, not industry-focused, agency — and that the
FCC should approve the rule “as expeditiously as possible.”

In addition to emphasizing the consumer-friendliness, the operators also hit on
another FCC sweet spot: faster broadband. “Cable operators will have even more
incentives to migrate rapidly to all-digital networks,” they wrote. “This frees up cable
bandwidth for faster Internet, more high-definition channels, more video-on-demand
choices and other services that customers are demanding in today’s competitive

The FCC originally adopted the rule prohibiting cable operators from scrambling
their digital basic tiers so viewers with cable-ready sets would not have to buy or
rent a set-top.

Rush Hour on Cybersecurity

WASHINGTON — The cybersecurity front saw much action last week, capped by
a Republican-backed version of legislation that the telco industry was backing
and that cable operators were sure to like better than a more regulatory version
introduced by Senate Democrats two weeks ago.

The Republican-backed cybersecurity bill emphasizes industry self-regulation, in
collaboration and communication with government, rather than having the Department
of Homeland Security come up with “risk-based” performance requirements
for networks, as the Senate Democrat-backed bill introduced last month would do.

Telcos including US Telecom and members of CTIA: The Wireless Association
said they could support the new bill because it put the emphasis on self-regulation
rather than “creating new bureaucracies or regulatory mandates that would
erode, rather than enhance, the ability of network providers to provide nimble
and effective responses to cyber threats,” as US Telecom put it.

The NCTA was not looking for those mandates, either, teaming with US Telecom
and CTIA on a letter to congressional leaders outlining their cybersecurity
priorities, which dovetailed with many of the Republican proposals.

While the NCTA did not join CTIA and US Telecom in publicly endorsing the
Republican bill, it is likely keeping its powder dry until some kind of compromise
emerges between that bill and the Democratic bill championed by Senate Commerce
Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).

The Republican bill tracks more closely with the NCTA’s position, but
cybersecurity is, broadly, a bipartisan issue; with Democrats in control of the
Senate, cable operators will need to work with both sides of the aisle.

Separately, House Communications Subcommittee Chair Greg Walden (ROre.)
has named members of a new, bipartisan working group on cybersecurity
and has scheduled the next in a series of hearings on the subject for March 7.