As of March 31, 1999, the Federal Communications Commission will no longer have the authority to receive or act upon consumer complaints regarding cable television service. As required by Congress in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, after that date, the Commission will no longer be able to accept and process consumer complaints about rates on the cable programming service tier on your cable system. That is the service tier that includes the cable networks. Local communities will continue to have the authority to regulate rates on the basic service tier (the tier that includes over-the-air broadcast stations).
The 1992 Cable Act established a process whereby cable equipment and "basic" tier cable rates would be subject to regulation by state and municipal governments in those areas where effective competitive was absent. For regulatory purposes, basic tier service includes broadcast signals, local public, educational, and government access channels and other services the system operator chooses to include in the same package with these channels. Basic tier service is typically the lowest price tier of service that all subscribers receive. The cable programming service tier, includes all video programming distributed over a system that is not on the basic service tier. It is this cable programming service tier that will no longer be subject to regulation after March 31, 1999. The Commission will continue to process complaints regarding service offered prior to March 31, 1999.
FCC Chairman William E. Kennard has launched a Cable Consumer Bill of Rights campaign to inform consumers of their options regarding their cable service in the new deregulated era. Information on the Cable Consumer Bill of Rights campaign can be found at http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Miscellaneous/News_Releases/1999/nrmc9015.wp.
Since 1993, the Commission's Cable Services Bureau has been receiving and disposing of complaints from cable television subscribers regarding rates on the cable programming service tier ("CPST"). In that period of time, the Bureau has resolved more than 18,000 complaints involving more than 5700 cable communities. The Commission has ordered nearly $100 million in consumer refunds during the nearly six years of cable rate regulation to 40 million cable consumers. Included in these figures are a number of "Social Contracts" and "Rate Resolutions" that resolved large numbers of rate complaints pending involving some of the nation's largest multi-system cable operators.
With the sunset of federal cable rate regulation, the FCC will no longer be able to act upon rate increases that occur after March 31st. Only new Congressional action can extend the Commission role, or provide new cable rate regulations. The Commission will continue work on a number of matters related to increasing competition in the video programming marketplace. Both the Cable Act of 1992 and the 1996 Telecommunications Act included provisions directing the FCC to take aggressive steps to improve competition in the video programming marketplace.
Competition is growing, but at a slow pace. The Commission's own 1998 Cable Competition Report shows that cable operators still have 85 percent of those consumers who subscribe to multichannel video programming. The Commission believes that, as competition to cable and choice in the video programming marketplace develop, consumers will have access to more services and that prices will be controlled by competition.
For more information on cable television issues, contact the FCC Call Center toll free at 1-888-CALL-FCC or visit the FCC's web site at http://www.fcc.gov/csb/. TTY: 1-888-835-5322.