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ACA To FCC: Special Access Data Mandates Violate Paperwork Reduction Act

Cable Group Says Relief For Small Cable Operators Needed To Reduce Cost Burdens

PITTSBURGH, April 16, 2013 - The American Cable Association called on the Federal Communications Commission to overhaul its proposed special access data mandates on small cable operators, asserting that the large and disproportionate cost burdens anticipated by these providers would render the agency's actions unlawful under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA).

"The cost of gathering, collating, and formatting the information will be excessive for small cable operators," ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said. "Because the request imposes such large burdens on small cable operators, ACA submits they are not compliant with the PRA's directive to minimize the paperwork burden, especially for smaller entities, and needs to be extensively revised before the mandatory data request should be issued."

ACA's analysis included detailed examples from two ACA Members considered representative of the 100 to 150 ACA Members covered by the FCC's data mandates. ACA found, for example, that the FCC's proposed time estimate to comply - 134 hours per respondent - fell far short of the 500 hours it will likely take the average small cable operator. ACA stressed that the burden would be especially onerous for small cable companies that do not have regulatory counsel on staff and do not collect the information sought in the normal course of business.

ACA comments, filed April 15, came in response to the FCC's request contained in Appendix A of the "Special Access" Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted by the agency last December.  The FCC intends to use this information in conjunction with a market analysis in conducting a comprehensive evaluation of competition in the special access market and updating its rules for pricing flexibility for special access services.

The FCC's proposed comprehensive special access data collection is mandatory for providers of Dedicated Services and Best Efforts Internet Service to business customers. The FCC's notice states that more than 6,000 entities are expected to respond.

ACA urged the FCC to alter the data request and establish as a general rule that small cable operators are not required to produce information that they do not collect in the normal course of business.

ACA explained that the PRA requires the FCC to balance the need for specific data with the burdens imposed. In this case, small cable operators are relatively new entrants in the provision of Dedicated Services, a market the incumbents have dominated for decades and where long term customer contracts, which are often regionally based, play a key role. Thus, the local market presence of small cable operators is not significant enough to warrant the FCC's far-reaching information request.

ACA's comments focused on several areas that are problematic for ACA Members, including the production of fiber maps, network location information, and billing and revenue information.

The FCC's information request requires respondents to provide maps of their networks, including fiber that is owned or leased and all nodes used to interconnect to third party networks, and the year the node went live. ACA Member Frankfort (Ky.) Plant Board, for example, does not have these maps and would need to create them. This would entail reviewing many end user agreements to determine routes, nodes, and dates of service initiation for each node. The entire exercise of gathering data and generating the maps would take Frankfort approximately 180 hours.

The FCC's information request requires respondents to provide a variety of specific information about locations where they provide a connection for Dedicated Services. ACA Member ImOn Communications, based in Cedar Rapids, Ia., does not collect and maintain most of the location information requested. Consequently, it will be required to review all of its customer agreements and obtain latitude and longitude manually for each location by using generally available sources. ImOn estimates these activities would require nearly 200 hours, plus another 40 hours to create information about the date on which it first provided the connections to its customers.

The FCC's request requires a large amount of data related to billing and revenue. Frankfort uses manual record retention and billing systems. As such, it cannot automatically generate the information required to respond. This means it would need to spend hundreds of hours to review each customer contract. In contrast, ImOn has automated billing records, but it still estimates it would need to review many of its records manually to respond to the questions. 

"ACA expects that the total effective cost for an average small operator to respond will be approximately $50,000. This is clearly excessive in absolute terms and in terms of the value of the information required to perform the analysis, and inconsistent with the PRA's directive to minimize the paperwork burden, especially on smaller entities. The FCC needs to be responsive if it does not want to harm these businesses," Polka said.

About the American Cable Association

Based in Pittsburgh, the American Cable Association is a trade organization representing nearly 850 smaller and medium-sized, independent cable companies who provide broadband services for more than 7 million cable subscribers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America.  Through active participation in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C., ACA's members work together to advance the interests of their customers and ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their business.  For more information, visit http://www.americancable.org/

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