Power Math Here we go again. Various famous quote lines come to mind as I read the latest policy pronouncements from the FCC in the form of newspaper articles. Never mind the rulemaking process, which I talked about last week. It has gotten to the point that "preliminary" decisions, and the calculation of whether the Chairman has the votes to do one thing or another are the fodder of exclusive newspaper interviews even before the relevant documents hit all the desks of the other Commissioners! But back to the quotes. You’ve seen them before in various forms; "figures don’t lie, but liars can figure," and "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." What we are now hearing coming out of the FCC reminds me of both sentiments. First, the speculation: apparently an item is being distributed for vote, possibly as soon as this month, that would find that cable has reached "70/70". That is, cable is available to 70 percent of the nation’s television homes, and that 70 percent of those homes subscribe to cable television service. Now there is no argument that cable plant is in front of far more than 70% of the television homes in the country. But that 70% subscribe? Where does that number come from? The FCC itself, in it’s last accounting of cable subscribers said that nowhere near that number of homes actually subscribed, and in case the Commission has missed this, the number of television homes has gone up, and if you just check with Wall Street, they will tell you that the number of cable subscribers has gone flat, or down! So how and why are these new conclusions being drawn? First, the reason; there is a provision in the 1984 Cable Act that would give the Commission some new authority to potentially write new rules to assure program diversity if cable reached a "70/70" position. It is no secret that some members of the Commission would like to aggregate all the power and authority they can over cable television to impose what they see as the "right" way for the industry to conduct its business. It is also no secret that almost everyone who has studied the issue agrees that the most popularly touted "fix" proposed, a la carte, would REDUCE not increase diversity in programming! It’s also clear we have more diversity today than ever. So to get the absolute power to do what they want, the folks who insist they know and have the right to impose industrial policy on the cable industry have to lock down that power by "finding" the numbers they need from a 23-year-old law. Hence the numbers game. How are they going to find that "cable" has reached "70/70"? Well, one suggestion is that they meld the numbers from cable’s telephone competitors into the "cable" numbers! So while logic would suggest that the rules worked, that the traditional cable folks are now fighting a spirited competitive battle, the FCC wants to add all the competitors together to justify more power to regulate. But even then the numbers don’t make it. If it were true that "cable" in all forms accounts for 70% of all MVPD subscribers, and we know that satellite represents more than 25%, then only 5% of homes are not served by multichannel video program distributors. But the government itself, as part of the DTV Transition, has been told by groups like the Consumer Federation of America that between 10 and 15% of all television homes rely solely on over-the-air television. That comes out to 110%! Power math.

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