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FCC Fines Cable Firms Over Changes

By Deborah Yao
Associated Press
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Federal Communications Commission is fining nine cable TV operators for attempting to thwart its investigation of a practice in which analog channels were transferred to a more expensive digital tier, leaving some customers without access.

In a letter to congressional leaders Monday, on his last full day in office, FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said cable operators had exhibited "contempt" for the commission by not providing full information about their practices, as ordered.

"The cable operators' refusal to provide the commission full information has delayed our investigation and inhibited our ability to examine allegations" stemming from nearly 600 complaints, he told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

The cable operators receiving fines were Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems, Bright House Networks, Harron Communications, Midcontinent Communications and Suddenlink Communications.

The fines range from $7,500 to $25,000 -- totaling about $500,000 -- and some companies also were told to issue refunds to customers for failing to give a 30-day notice about the channel changes.

In October, the FCC asked 13 cable operators for more information on their practice of migrating channels to digital. The agency was concerned that customers who subscribe to less expensive tiers of analog service, such as basic cable, would have access to fewer channels because some have been moved to the digital lineup.

Cable companies want to move analog channels to digital to create more room to add high-definition channels and other content. It is not related to the national switch to digital broadcasting.

Comcast said it needed more time to comply with the inquiry and questioned the legitimacy of the FCC's probe.

Time Warner Cable said it disagreed with the finding; other cable operators didn't immediately respond to calls for comment.

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