On his last day as FCC chairman, Kevin Martin directed the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau to issue notices of apparent liability for forfeiture (NALFs) to nine major cable operators for their alleged failure to respond fully to an FCC investigation into the movement of analog channels to digital tiers. Issued on Monday’s federal holiday, the NALFs propose $25,000 in fines against each of the following operators: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision, Bright House Networks, Harron Communications, Midcontinent Communications and Suddenlink Communications. In response to 600 consumer complaints, the FCC last October asked 13 cable firms and Verizon Communications (the operator of the FiOS IPTV service) for information on the migration of analog channels to digital tiers, focusing, in particular, on whether analog customers receive any kind of price break for the loss of channels that are moved to digital tiers and whether subscribers were informed of channel changes. In a letter delivered to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and to ranking committee member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Martin proclaimed that “the cable operators’ refusal to provide . . . full information has delayed our investigation and inhibited our ability to examine allegations.” Observing that, “when cable operators migrate analog channels to a digital tier, consumers are forced to pay more if they wish to continue watching the same channels,” Martin told the lawmakers that, “for consumers, this situation is unacceptable.” While the FCC claims that recipients of the NALFs have been evasive, Comcast and other subjects of the FCC’s October inquiry contend that the information sought by the FCC included highly sensitive and proprietary pricing terms contained in programming contracts and that the agency’s original 14-day deadline for submitting that information was insufficient. The FCC has given the cable firms ten days in which to respond to the NALFs.
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