Dishonest or just dumb?

An article in today’s NY Times caught my eye: “FCC Planning Rules to Open Cable Market” says that the FCC has laid the legal groundwork to re-regulate the cable industry. It struck me because this is quite atypical for the FCC and for the Bush administration in general. Apparently, in the Cable Communications Act of 1984, Congress empowered the FCC to act once the cable industry matured to a certain size: “at such time as cable systems with 36 or more activated channels are available to 70 percent of households within the United States and are subscribed to by 70 percent of the households to which such systems are available, the Commission may promulgate any additional rules necessary to provide diversity of information sources.” (http://www.publicaccess.org/cableact.html)

Predictably, now that that point has been reached and surpassed, the cable industry is whining about the burdens the FCC may impose. But to do it, they apparently need to distort not just policy but basic math as well.

More below the fold.


According to the Times article, Kyle McSlarrow (the president and chief executive of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association) indignantly challenges the FCC’s finding that the maturation level had been reached. “Every independent analysis of the marketplace shows that cable serves less than 70 percent of the nation’s households,” he asserts. This may or may not be true — I’m disinclined to trust any figure quoted by a cable industry executive, to be honest — but it doesn’t matter. The language of the bill, quoted above, makes it clear that 70 percent was not the target.

The FCC is empowered when 70% of American households can get cable and when 70% of those who can actually do get cable. So Congress set the figure at 70% of 70%. As Mr. McSlarry should have learned way back in 4th grade, that comes out to 49% of the total households — millions less than the number he’s throwing out as the minimum.

I honestly can’t decide: Is this the cable industry distorting the figures in an attempt to obfuscate the debate? Or have American schools fallen so far off track that a major political/financial actor truly can’t do basic grade-school math?

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