Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania


March 11, 2013

KDKA's main television signal is broadcast atop Pittsburgh's Observatory Hill neighborhood, nearly 70 miles from Johnstown. But the station has been carried locally for decades. That will change on Friday.

Atlantic Broadband says must drop the channel because of rising costs to carry it. The move has angered a number of local residents who say they will lose their main source for Pittsburgh sports, news and other Western Pa.-focused programming, even while the area's Altoona-Johnstown CBS affiliate, WTAJ, will remain on the air-waves. "KDKA has the best local sports coverage in western Pennsylvania," Johnstown resident Debbie Chuba wrote to The Tribune-Democrat, saying she relies on in-depth coverage from Johnstown's closest major city. "I am infuriated," Ron D. Korber of Davidsville added.

Atlantic Broadband Chief Operating Officer David Dane said the decision to drop KDKA wasn't easy. In recent years, the cost to carry KDKA? "nearly doubled," he wrote, saying it forced the cable operator's hand. KDKA is owned by the CBS Network. More HD channels will be added in its place, Dane said. And CBS favorites such as Sunday Steeler games, "Survivor," "NCIS" and "The Amazing Race" will be aired by Atlantic Broadband to all cable subscribers through the WTAJ?signal. Chuba and other local residents vented that Johnstown is being robbed of cable competition.

But Atlantic Broadband's role as the lone cable provider for the Johnstown region is far from rare in other cities across the nation, even though the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates broadcast communications has taken steps as recently as 2007 to encourage more competition among cable providers. Cities, boroughs, townships and other municipalities are given the rights to bid on and negotiate franchise rights to their territories. For example, Richland Township entered into a 10-year agreement in April 2009 that allows Atlantic Broadband to serve Richland and maintain its lines for 5 percent of the profit generated from the area, their contract shows. In 2012, that meant more than $180,000 in revenue to the township, township records show.

But efforts to seek other bidders to compete for franchise rights end up luring one bidder - the current provider, local officials said. "The companies all have their territories cut out and they respect each other's," said state Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Patton. Haluska, in office since 1995, said during that time he's never heard of a Pennsylvania effort to encourage more cable competition. Part of that reason, local officials speculate, is because companies entrenched in their areas spend plenty of money maintaining cable lines and the system used to broadcast programming into homes and businesses. Anyone else want-ing to do the same would have to use that company's lines, too. Still, TV owners have several options locally for channel-surfing needs. Satellite providers such as DirectTV and Dish Network have become major players in the market, and phone companies like Verizon have also started offering cable packages.

In KDKA's case, there are some alternatives for area viewers. In addition to WTAJ's programming, viewers can find some of KDKA-exclusive television on the CW Network, including early morning and 10 p.m. nightly news. Some area viewers can also receive KDKA over the air through personal HD antennas, depending on their locations. Johnstown Tribune-Democrat

Two questions dominate current conversation in Washington's telecom world: When will Julius leave, and who will replace him?

Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is expected to leave his position as early as next month even though his tenure doesn't end until the summer, according to people close to the White House and key decision makers on Capitol Hill. And what may move that process forward is growing agreement among top government leaders on a nominee to replace him. A decision will spark a reshuffling of commissioner and senior level seats at the agency, which oversees cable, phone and wireless providers. Washington is putting increasing attention on the commission and high-tech sectors. Americans depend more than ever on smartphones and the Internet for education, work and entertainment. The next FCC chairman will inherit the task of distributing more airwaves to bolster wireless networks, extend Internet access to the poor and oversee what is expected to be more mergers within the industry.

The top candidates for chairman include Tom Wheeler, a tech and telecom venture capitalist and fundraiser for President Obama; Karen Kornbluh, Obama's ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; and Lawrence Strickling, an assistant secretary for Commerce and head of the White House's tech and advisory policy arm at the Commerce Department. Wheeler, Kornbluh and Strickling all have telecom policy chops and, importantly, all have long relationships with the president. Wheeler, a partner at Core Capital Partners, was a fundraiser and an adviser to Obama during his 2008 election campaign. In 2011, he was named to the president's Intelligence Advisory Board. In the telecom world, he served in 2005 as the head of the wireless industry's biggest trade group, CTIA. He currently serves as the chairman of the FCC's technical advisory committee, which meets throughout the year to give advice to Genachowski on key technology trends that the agency should consider. His lobbying ties as head of the industry's major wireless trade group have raised some concerns, according to people close to the White House and Capitol Hill. But Wheeler's time at the CTIA was before the advent of smartphones and ubiquity of wireless services.

Kornbluh began her tenure at the OECD in August 2009. She was nominated by Obama, whom she advised during his time in the Senate and throughout his first presidential campaign. She is steeped in tech policy, having worked as a senior adviser to former Democratic FCC chairman Reed Hundt. At the OECD, she has fought over the past year against new international Internet regulations. She may benefit from a push by some FCC veterans and Washington observers for Obama to appoint a woman in the chairman's office. Strickling is a Chicago native and longtime friend of Obama. Since June 2009, he has served as head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which manages the nation's government and commercial airwaves. His office is charged with Internet privacy policies and oversight of how domain names are managed.

Genachowski's departure is expected to coincide with a departure by senior FCC Republican commissioner Robert McDowell. Once Senate Republican leaders find a replacement for McDowell, a package announcement on several FCC changes will occur, according to people close to the White House, Capitol Hill and FCC. Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) or John Thune (R-S.D.) will probably lead the Republican Party's consideration of candidates to replace McDowell, the observers said. Related stories: FCC chief's painstaking approach earns mixed reviews in turbulent time for telecom industry Opinion: Susan Crawford for FCC chairman Sign up today to receive #thecircuit, a daily roundup of the latest tech policy news from Washington and how it is shaping business, entertainment and science. Washington Post

Internet-service provider Windstream Corp.'s lobbying efforts came up short in Georgia after state lawmakers Thursday voted down an industry-backed bill that would have outlawed many new public broadband networks. The measure would have made Georgia at least the 20th state to place some curb on publicly funded high-speed Internet access, often created to bring services where telecom companies feel it is not profitable. Large firms-including Comcast Corp., AT&T Inc. and Time Warner Cable Inc. -have pushed for similar legislation in numerous state capitals in recent years, a Wall Street Journal article detailed this week. Telecom companies say local governments are allowed to take advantage of tax breaks and cheap financing, giving them an advantage over the private sector. The Georgia legislation would have banned new public networks in census tracts where a private company offers even relatively slow broadband service. The measure failed 94-70. Wall Street Journal