(a) For purposes of rules governing the reasonableness of rates charged by small systems, the size of a system or company shall be determined by reference to its size as of the date the system files with its franchising authority or the Commission the documentation necessary to qualify for the relief sought or, at the option of the company, by reference to system or company size as of the effective date of this paragraph. Where relief is dependent upon the size of both the system and the company, the operator must measure the size of both the system and the company as of the same date. A small system shall be considered affiliated with a cable company if the company holds a 20 percent or greater equity interest in the system or exercises de jure control over the system.
(b) A franchising authority that has been certified, pursuant to § 76.910, to regulate rates for basic service and associated equipment may permit a small system as defined in § 76.901 to certify that the small system's rates for basic service and associated equipment comply with § 76.922, the Commission's substantive rate regulations.
(c) Initial regulation of small systems:
(1) If certified by the Commission, a local franchising authority may provide an initial notice of regulation to a small system, as defined by § 76.901(c), on May 15, 1994. Any initial notice of regulation issued by a certified local franchising authority prior to May 15, 1994 shall be considered as having been issued on May 15, 1994.
(2) The Commission will accept complaints concerning the rates for cable programming service tiers provided by small systems on or after May 15, 1994. Any complaints filed with the Commission about the rates for a cable programming service tier provided by a small system prior to May 15, 1994 shall be considered as having been filed on May 15, 1994.
(3) A small system that receives an initial notice of regulation from its local franchising authority, or a complaint filed with the Commission for its cable programming service tier, must respond within the time periods prescribed in §§ 76.930 and 76.956.
(d) Statutory period for filing initial complaint: A complaint concerning a rate for cable programming service or associated equipment provided by a small system that was in effect on May 15, 1994 must be filed within 180 days from May 15, 1994.
(e) Petitions for extension of time: Small systems may obtain an extension of time to establish compliance with rate regulations provided they can demonstrate that timely compliance would result in severe economic hardship. Requests for extension of time should be addressed to the local franchising authority concerning basic service and equipment rates and to the Commission concerning rates for a cable programming service tier and associated equipment. The filing of a request for an extension of time to comply with the rate regulations will not toll the effective date of rate regulation for small systems or alter refund liability for rates that exceed permitted levels after May 15, 1994.
(f)Small Systems Owned by Small Cable Companies. Small systems owned by small cable companies shall have 90 days from their initial date of regulation on a tier to bring their rates for that tier into compliance with the requirements of Sections 76.922 and 76.923. Such systems shall have sixty days from the initial date of regulation to file FCC Forms 1200, 1205, 1210, 1211, 1215, 1220, 1225, 1230, and 1240 and any similar forms as appropriate. Rates established during the 90-day period shall not be subject to prior approval by franchising authorities or the Commission, but shall be subject to refund pursuant to sections 76.942 and 76.961.
(g) Alternative rate regulation agreements:
(1) Local franchising authorities, certified pursuant to § 76.910, and small systems owned by small cable companies may enter into alternative rate regulation agreements affecting the basic service tier and the cable programming service tier.
(i) Small systems must file with the Commission a copy of the operative alternative rate regulation agreement within 30 days after its effective date.
(2) Alternative rate regulation agreements affecting the cable programming service tier shall take into account, among other factors, the following:
(i) The rates for similarly situated cable systems offering comparable cable programming services, taking into account similarities in facilities, regulatory and governmental costs, the number of subscribers, and other relevant factors;
(ii) The rates for cable systems, if any, that are subject to effective competition;
(iii) The history of the rates for cable programming services of the system, including the relationship of such rates to changes in general consumer prices;
(iv) The rates, as a whole, for all the cable programming, cable equipment, and cable services provided by the system, other than programming provided on a per channel or per program basis;
(v) Capital and operating costs of the cable system, including the quality and costs of the customer service provided by the cable system; and
(vi) The revenues received by a cable operator from advertising from programming that is carried as part of the service for which a rate is being established, and changes in such revenues, or from other considerations obtained in connection with the cable programming services concerned. The rate agreed to in such an alternative rate regulation agreement shall be deemed to be a reasonable rate.
(3) Certified local franchising authorities shall provide a reasonable opportunity for consideration of the views of interested parties prior to finally entering into an alternative rate regulation agreement.
(4) A basic service rate decision by a certified local franchising authority made pursuant to an alternative rate regulation agreement may be appealed by an interested party to the Commission pursuant to § 76.944 as if the decision were made according to §§ 76.922 and 76.923.
Small systems owned by small cable companies must comply with the alternative rate agreement filing requirements of § 76.1805.
(h) Small system cost-of-service showings:
(1) At any time, a small system owned by a small cable company may establish new rates, or justify existing rates, for regulated program services in accordance with the small cable company cost-of-service methodology described below.
(2) The maximum annual per subscriber rate permitted initially by the small cable company cost-of-service methodology shall be calculated by adding
(i) The system's annual operating expenses to
(ii) The product of its net rate base and its rate of return, and then dividing that sum by (iii) the product of
(A) The total number of channels carried on the system's basic and cable programming service tiers and
(B) The number of subscribers. The annual rate so calculated must then be divided by 12 to arrive at a monthly rate.
(3) The system shall calculate its maximum permitted rate as described in paragraph (b) of this section by completing Form 1230. The system shall file Form 1230 as follows:
(i) Where the franchising authority has been certified by the Commission to regulate the system's basic service tier rates, the system shall file Form 1230 with the franchising authority.
(ii) Where the Commission is regulating the system's basic service tier rates, the system shall file Form 1230 with the Commission.
(iii) Where a complaint about the system's cable programming service rates is filed with the Commission, the system shall file Form 1230 with the Commission.
(4) In completing Form 1230:
(i) The annual operating expenses reported by the system shall equal the system's operating expenses allocable to its basic and cable programming service tiers for the most recent 12 month period for which the system has the relevant data readily available, adjusted for known and measurable changes occurring between the end of the 12 month period and the effective date of the rate. Expenses shall include all regular expenses normally incurred by a cable operator in the provision of regulated cable service, but shall not include any lobbying expense, charitable contributions, penalties and fines paid one account of statutes or rules, or membership fees in social service, recreational or athletic clubs or associations.
(ii) The net rate base of a system is the value of all of the system's assets, less depreciation.
(iii) The rate of return claimed by the system shall reflect the operator's actual cost of debt, its cost of equity, or an assumed cost of equity, and its capital structure, or an assumed capital structure.
(iv) The number of subscribers reported by the system shall be calculated according to the most recent reliable data maintained by the system.
(v) The number of channels reported by the system shall be the number of channels it has on its basic and cable programming service tiers on the day it files Form 1230.
(vi) In establishing its operating expenses, net rate base, and reasonable rate of return, a system may rely on previously existing information such as tax forms or company financial statements, rather than create or recreate financial calculations. To the extent existing information is incomplete or otherwise insufficient to make exact calculations, the system may establish its operating expenses, net rate base, and reasonable rate of return on the basis of reasonable, good faith estimates.
(5) After the system files Form 1230, review by the franchising authority, or the Commission when appropriate, shall be governed by § 76.933, subject to the following conditions.
(i) If the maximum rate established on Form 1230 does not exceed $1.24 per channel, the rate shall be rebuttably presumed reasonable. To disallow such a rate, the franchising authority shall bear the burden of showing that the operator did not reasonably interpret and allocate its cost and expense data in deriving its annual operating expenses, its net rate base, and a reasonable rate of return. If the maximum rate established on Form 1230 exceeds $1.24 per channel, the franchising authority shall bear such burden only if the rate that the cable operator actually seeks to charge does not exceed $1.24 per channel.
(ii) In the course of reviewing Form 1230, a franchising authority shall be permitted to obtain from the cable operator the information necessary for judging the validity of methods used for calculating its operating costs, rate base, and rate of return. If the maximum rate established in Form 1230 does not exceed $1.24 per channel, any request for information by the franchising authority shall be limited to existing relevant documents or other data compilations and should not require the operator to create documents, although the operator should replicate responsive documents that are missing or destroyed.
(iii) A system may file with the Media Bureau an interlocutory appeal from any decision by the franchising authority requesting information from the system or tolling the effective date of a system's proposed rates. The appeal may be made by an informal letter to the Chief of the Media Bureau, served on the franchising authority. The franchising authority must respond within seven days of its receipt of the appeal and shall serve the operator with its response. The operator shall have four days from its receipt of the response in which to file a reply, if desired. If the maximum rate established on Form 1230 does not exceed $1.24 per channel, the burden shall be on the franchising authority to show the reasonableness of its order. If the maximum rate established on Form 1230 exceeds $1.24 per channel, the burden shall be on the operator to show the unreasonableness of the order.
(iv) In reviewing Form 1230 and issuing a decision, the franchising authority shall determine the reasonableness of the maximum rate permitted by the form, not simply the rate which the operator intends to establish.
(v) A final decision of the franchising authority with respect to the requested rate shall be subject to appeal pursuant to § 76.944. The filing of an appeal shall stay the effectiveness of the final decision pending the disposition of the appeal by the Commission. An operator may bifurcate its appeal of a final rate decision by initially limiting the scope of the appeal to the reasonableness of any request for information made by the franchising authority. The operator may defer addressing the substantive rate-setting decision of the franchising authority until after the Commission has ruled on the reasonableness of the request for information. At its option, the operator may forego the bifurcated appeal and address both the request for documentation and the substantive rate-setting decision in a single appeal. When filing an appeal from a final rate-setting decision by the franchising authority, the operator may raise as an issue the scope of the request for information only if that request was not approved by the Commission on a previous interlocutory appeal by the operator.
(6) Complaints concerning the rates charged for a cable programming services tier by a system that has elected the small cable company cost-of-service methodology may be filed pursuant to § 76.957. Upon receipt of a complaint, the Commission shall review the system's rates in accordance with the standards set forth above with respect to basic tier rates.
(7) Unless otherwise ordered by the franchising authority or the Commission, the system may establish its per channel rate at any level that does not exceed the maximum rate permitted by Form 1230, provided that the system has given the required written notice to subscribers. If the system establishes its per channel rate at a level that is less than the maximum amount permitted by the form, it may increase rates at any time thereafter to the maximum amount upon providing the required written notice to subscribers.
(8) After determining the maximum rate permitted by Form 1230, the system may adjust that rate in accordance with this paragraph. Electing to adjust rates pursuant to one of the options set forth below shall not prohibit the system from electing a different option when adjusting rates thereafter. The system may adjust its maximum permitted rate without adjusting the actual rate it charges subscribers.
(i) The system may adjust its maximum permitted rate in accordance with the price cap requirements set forth in § 76.922(d).
(ii) The system may adjust its maximum permitted rate in accordance with the requirements set forth in § 76.922(e) for changes in the number of channels on regulated tiers. For any system that files Form 1230, no rate adjustments made prior to the effective date of this rule shall be charged against the system's Operator's Cap and License Reserve Fee described in § 76.922(e)(3).
(iii) The system may adjust its maximum permitted rate by filing a new Form 1230 that permits a higher rate.
(iv) The system may adjust its maximum permitted rate by complying with any of the options set forth in § 76.922(b)(1) for which it qualifies or under an alternative rate agreement as provided in paragraph (g) of this section.
(9) In any rate proceeding before a franchising authority in which a final decision had not been issued as of June 5, 1995, a small system owned by a small cable company may elect the form of rate regulation set forth in this section to justify the rates that are the subject of the proceeding, if the system and affiliated company were a small system and small company respectively as of the June 5, 1995 and as of the period during which the disputed rates were in effect. However, the validity of a final rate decision made by a franchising authority before June 5, 1995 is not affected.
(10) In any proceeding before the Commission involving a cable programming services tier complaint in which a final decision had not been issued as of June 5, 1995, a small system owned by a small cable company may elect the form of rate regulation set forth in this section to justify rates charged prior to the adoption of this rule and to establish new rates. For purposes of this paragraph, a decision shall not be deemed final until the operator has exhausted or is time-barred from pursuing any avenue of appeal, review, or reconsideration.
(11) A system that is eligible to establish its rates in accordance with the small system cost-of-service approach shall remain eligible for so long as the system serves no more than 15,000 subscribers. When a system that has established rates in accordance with the small system cost-of-service approach exceeds 15,000 subscribers, the system may maintain its then existing rates. After exceeding the 15,000 subscriber limit, any further rate adjustments shall not reflect increases in external costs, inflation or channel additions until the system has re-established initial permitted rates in accordance with some other method of rate regulation prescribed in this subpart.
For rules governing small cable operators, see § 76.990 of this subpart.