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FCC to vote on whether streaming service is 'effective competition' for cable

At its October monthly meeting, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is set to vote on an item that would qualify over-the-top streaming service as "effective competition" for cable in certain markets, the agency confirmed Oct. 18.

Under the Communications Act, if a cable company is subject to effective competition, basic cable rates will not be regulated by the FCC, a state or franchising authority.

According to an FCC fact sheet, nearly all cable systems in the U.S. are presumed to be subject to effective competition from direct broadcast satellite service, with the exception of certain markets in Massachusetts and Hawaii.

Charter Communications Inc. petitioned the commission to determine if AT&T Inc.'s TV NOW streaming service is effective competition to cable systems in Kauai, Hawaii and 32 Massachusetts communities. In an item that the commission appears poised to approve at its Oct. 25 open meeting, it will determine that the streaming service meets the elements of effective competition.

"Adopting this order would be a major step toward the Commission recognizing the realities of the modern video marketplace, and the increasingly important role that streaming services are playing in it," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in an Oct. 3 blog post.

The agency will also vote on an order that would make "targeted modifications" to how it tests carriers receiving subsidies from the agency's Connect America Fund for high-cost areas are building networks that meet FCC performance standards. The program helps ensure consumers in rural and other hard-to-reach areas have access to communications services at affordable prices.

"On one hand, we want to make sure that subscribers are getting the quality of service that they have been promised and our rules require," wrote Pai in his blog. "On the other, we also want to make sure that our testing procedures don't impose unnecessary burdens on small carriers located in hard-to-serve areas that often face unique challenges."

Another item the commission will vote on would clarify that federal law prohibits state, local and tribal governments from issuing higher fees to VoIP subscribers for 911 services.

Pai said in his blog that the ruling would "assure regulatory parity" between voice over IP and traditional telecommunications services and encourage consumers and businesses to migrate to more IP-based services.

A notice of proposed rulemaking would, in part, seek comment on whether the FCC should eliminate or revise rules that prohibit the grant or renewal of a license to an FM or TV station if the applicant or licensee operates an antenna "suitable for broadcasting" in the area and also does not make the site open for use from other similar licensees.

Some FCC rules in this space date back to World War II, and the commission is trying to determine how relevant and necessary the rules still are.

Another item on the commission's agenda is an order seeking to update the commission's filing rules on tariff associated with intercarrier compensation.

Finally, the FCC will vote on an item that would eliminate certain requirements for the reconfiguration of the 800 MHz band that Pai believes are no longer necessary. Pai said in his blog that the re-band effort has taken 14 years and that the requirements he wants to eliminate would "only serve the purpose of delaying the end of this already lengthy process."