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AL: City opposes deregulating Comcast

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Created 08/23/2007 - 7:24am

from: Tuscaloosa News [1]

City opposes deregulating Comcast

By Robert DeWitt
Staff Writer
Published Wednesday, August 22, 2007

TUSCALOOSA | The city of Tuscaloosa is opposing an attempt by Comcast Cable to end city regulation of basic cable rates.

Tuesday the Tuscaloosa City Council voted unanimously to authorize the city’s legal departments to file comments with the Federal Communications Commission opposing Comcast’s request for relief from regulation.

Senior Associate City Attorney Tim Nunnally said the city’s franchise agreement with Comcast gives it the right to regulate the price Comcast charges for its basic package, which includes about 18 channels.

The package includes television stations that carry the major networks, public broadcasting, local channels, CSPAN, The Weather Channel and others. All customers pay for basic cable. The city has no authority to regulate charges for expanded service.

Comcast is claiming that it should be granted relief because satellite television companies are providing it with “effective competition," Nunnally said.

“We believe there’s a factual and legal basis to challenge the assertions that Comcast is making to the FCC," Nunnally said.

Nunnally said Comcast must prove that satellite services are offered to at least 50 percent of the people in the franchise area. To do that, it must show that it is technically possible to provide satellite service in the franchise area and the city doesn’t dispute that.

But Comcast must also prove that at least 50 percent of the people in the franchise area are reasonably aware that the service is offered. And they must show that satellite companies have at least 15 percent market penetration in the franchise area.

Nunnally said federal legal precedents place the burden for proving that people know about satellite service on the petitioner asking for relief. The assumption, he said, is that people don’t know. More recent FCC rulings presume the public does know about satellite service, he said.

Because of that, Comcast has presented no evidence to show that people are aware of the service, Nunnally said. The city will challenge the FCC’s presumption that the public is aware and ask that Comcast prove that the public is aware. The city will also challenge Comcast’s method of demonstrating that there is 15 percent penetration in the franchise area, he said.

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