cr> (Resend) OVS Comments Filed; Alliance Launches Grassroots Ca


Craig A. Johnson

APRIL 2, 1996


Washington, D.C. -- In a regulatory filing with the FCC, a coalition
of public interest and consumer-advocacy organizations yesterday
raised concerns that the  new "open video systems" concept, created by
the 1996 Telecommunications Act, would become "cable-lite," providing
the Regional Bell Operating Companies ("RBOCs") with  a way of getting
into the video programming business  without having to comply with any
 of the public interests protections  remaining in the 1984 Cable Act.

The FCC's rulemaking on "Open Video Systems" ("OVS") will determine
the structure of the industry that will provide the primary regulatory
alternative to traditional cable television service.  The major
difference between OVS and cable systems is that OVS may be required
to allot up to two-thirds of its capacity to programmers unaffiliated
with the OVS provider under certain circumstances.  The provisions
relieve OVS providers from such consumer protections as rate
regulation, maximum rates for access, local government oversight for
quality of service, consumer complaint mechanisms, and legal remedies.
  OVS is not a new technology, but an alternate regulatory regime
governing present technology.    The provisions expressly contemplate
that OVS may be offered over existing telephone lines , coaxial cable,
or wireless cable television systems.

The coalition filing comments in this proceeding includes the Alliance
for Community Media, the Alliance for Communications Democracy, the
Consumer Federation of America, the Consumer Project on Technology (a
Public Citizen related organization), and People for the American Way.
 Legal assistance was also provided by the Media Access Project and
Georgetown University Law Center's Institute for Public
Representation.  In addition to the named members, the Coalition also
represents the views of a number of groups with concerns about the 
expressive and access rights of the public in the information age.

While avoiding much price and consumer protection regulation, however,
OVS providers will still be required to provide public, educational
and governmental ("PEG") access to schools, churches, non-profit
organizations and political candidates in much the same way that it is
currently provided on cable systems.  The FCC is required by law to
implement PEG access on OVS
 systems in such a way as to burden OVS providers neither more nor
 less than
cable operators.

"The PEG requirement for OVS systems is one very bright star in a very
dark sky," commented Barry Forbes, Executive Director of the Alliance
for Community Media.  "Our interpretation of the provision requires
OVS providers to duplicate the cable PEG access system on their OVS
systems.  This means that they will be required to provide PEG access
with capacity, facilities, equipment, services and financial support
wherever the cable operator is required to do the same.  This is one
of the places in the law where Congress' intention is clear.  We hope
that the  Federal Communications Commission will see it the same way. 
There is so much ambiguous language in the OVS provisions -- it would
be a shame if the Commission diluted the effect of the one place in
the law where Congress unequivocally  defended the public interest."    

"In the best case scenario, OVS could offer the tremendous advantage
of meaningful access to a video transmission platform to a broad range
of businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals that are
currently excluded," stated Forbes.  "It's even plausible that trading
some regulatory protections for a video system that is truly open to
all might be considered a fair exchange.  But the law is not specific
about how 'open' the system must be.  The OVS provisions were drafted
by a elite group of RBOC and cable industry lobbyists behind closed
doors -- with absolutely with no input by the public. So it's
certainly not surprising that there is so much room for interpretation
-- and misinterpretation."      

"OVS is not a new technological breakthrough," continued Forbes. 
"It's nothing more than a legislative sleight of hand -- and a
convenient excuse for gutting what little public protection was
established in the 1984 Cable Act.  Any RBOC which owns a cable system
could declare all its cable systems to be OVS -- and they would not
have to make any technological changes at all!  If the FCC does not
step up to the plate and make sure that the system opens up to
unaffiliated programmers, the RBOCs would not have to change its
services one iota -- although consumers' bills could immediately rise
as high as the RBOCs' cable monopoly position would allow it.  Both
the cable and telephone industries are enormously profitable, so its
rather difficult for me to see where they are being broken by cable
regulatory burdens."

OVS is the regulatory successor to so-called "video dialtone" systems,
which the FCC had first begun discussing in the late 1980's as a
method to open up the editorial bottleneck of cable companies and
allow telephone companies into the business of providing video
programming services which were otherwise forbidden by law.  Proposed
"video dialtone" provisions in telecommunications bills were changed
in closed-door conference committee meetings to "open video systems." 
Once signed by the conference committee, the OVS provisions, along
with the rest of the Telecommunications bill, was considered by both
houses and passed in less than forty-eight hours.

"We are not going to allow the Commission to completely reshape the
television industry in this way without involving the public, " stated
Forbes.  "The Alliance is leading a grass-roots campaign to get the
people we work with -- non-profits, schools, local governments,
charities, Little Leagues, Kiwanis Clubs, Chambers of Commerce --
involved in pushing for an OVS regulatory regime that truly protects
the public.  We hope that that the Commission will be able to hear the
voices of people affected by such a sweeping change."

The Alliance for Community Media is a national, non-profit membership
organization committed to assuring everyone's access to electronic
media. The Alliance disseminates public information, advances a
positive legislative and regulatory environment, and supports local
organizing. Founded in 1976, the Alliance represents the interests of
an estimated 1.5 million community, religious and charitable groups
and individuals who use public, educational, and government (PEG)
access cable TV channels and facilities to speak to their communities.
The Alliance also serves the interests of over 950 PEG access
organizations and local origination cable services throughout the
country. The Alliance's 1996 International Conference and Trade Show
will be held in the Washington DC area on July 17 - 20, 1996, will
feature FCC Cable Services Bureau Chief Meredith Jones as one keynote
speaker, and is expected to attract over 800 participants. The
conference will include the Awards Ceremony for the 1996 Hometown
Video Festival, the largest and longest-running video competition
which showcases community media. -- 30 --
_________________________________________________ Alliance for
Community Media 666 11th Street, NW, Suite 806, Washington, DC
20001-4542 Voice: (202) 393-2650  Fax: (202) 393-2653 "Ensuring
everyone's access to electronic media since 1976."

Barry Forbes, Executive Director (Ext. 13)
Kelly Matthews, Member Services (Ext. 17)
Jeffrey Hops, Government Relations (Ext. 14)
Wanda Sheridan, Conference & Video Festival (Ext. 12)


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