Members of the House and Senate, led by Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Representative Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) have introduced the “Protecting Community Television Act (S. 3218/H.R. 5659),” which is intended to preserve local cable franchises by clarifying the statutory definition of a franchise fee. This bill was introduced with the endorsement of the National League of Cities and many other local government advocates.
The bill clarifies that the definition of a franchise fee only includes monetary payments. If signed into law, this would block the “in-kind” portion of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2019 cable franchise order, by preventing the FCC from defining all franchise provisions, whether monetary or not, as fees and allowing providers to deduct the market value of those franchise obligations from their payments. This move would also prevent future regulatory action to allow cable providers to deduct the market value of public, educational, and government (PEG) access television channel placement from fee payments, a policy the FCC hinted at in its final cable order in August 2019.
The bill does not address the “mixed use” portion of the 2019 order, which preempts state and local governments from regulating or charging franchise fees for wireless equipment and services provided on cable networks, such as small wireless devices connecting to aerial cable wires. NLC and numerous other local governments and allies continue to fight the order, including this portion, in a legal appeal.
To add your support for the Protecting Community Television Act, use NLC’s Twitter tool to send social media messages to your congressional delegation. You can also adapt NLC’s letter of support for the bill to use as a letter from your city. If you send a letter to your members of Congress, please send a copy of that correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org for our records.
About the Author: Angelina Panettieri is the Legislative Manager for Information Technology and Communications at the National League of Cities. Follow her on twitter at @AngelinainDC.