(a) Effective February 8, 1996, a small cable operator is exempt from rate regulation on its cable programming services tier, or on its basic service tier if that tier was the only service tier subject to rate regulation as of December 31, 1994, in any franchise area in which that operator services 50,000 or fewer subscribers.
(1) A small cable operator, may certify in writing to its franchise authority at any time that it meets all criteria necessary to qualify as a small operator. Upon request of the local franchising authority, the operator shall identify in writing all of its affiliates that provide cable service, the total subscriber base of itself and each affiliate, and the aggregate gross revenues of its cable and non-cable affiliates. Within 90 days of receiving the original certification, the local franchising authority shall determine whether the operator qualifies for deregulation and shall notify the operator in writing of its decision, although this 90-day period shall be tolled for so long as it takes the operator to respond to a proper request for information by the local franchising authority. An operator may appeal to the Commission a local franchise authority's information request if the operator seeks to challenge the information request as unduly or unreasonably burdensome. If the local franchising authority finds that the operator does not qualify for deregulation, its notice shall state the grounds for that decision. The operator may appeal the local franchising authority's decision to the Commission within 30 days.
(2) Once the operator has certified its eligibility for deregulation on the basic service tier, the local franchising authority shall not prohibit the operator from taking a rate increase and shall not order the operator to make any refunds unless and until the local franchising authority has rejected the certification in a final order that is no longer subject to appeal or that the Commission has affirmed. The operator shall be liable for refunds for revenues gained (beyond revenues that could be gained under regulation) as a result of any rate increase taken during the period in which it claimed to be deregulated, plus interest, in the event the operator is later found not to be deregulated. The one-year limitation on refund liability will not be applicable during that period to ensure that the filing of an invalid small operator certification does not reduce any refund liability that the operator would otherwise incur.
(3) Within 30 days of being served with a local franchising authority's notice that the local franchising authority intends to file a cable programming services tier rate complaint, an operator may certify to the local franchising authority that it meets the criteria for qualification as a small cable operator. This certification shall be filed in accordance with the cable programming services rate complaint procedure set forth in § 76.1402. Absent a cable programming services rate complaint, the operator may request a declaration of CPST rate deregulation from the Commission pursuant to § 76.7.
(c)Transition from small cable operator status. If a small cable operator subsequently becomes ineligible for small operator status, the operator will become subject to regulation but may maintain the rates it charged prior to losing small cable operator status if such rates (with an allowance for minor variations) were in effect for the three months preceding the loss of small cable operator status. Subsequent rate increases following the loss of small cable operator status will be subject to generally applicable regulations governing rate increases.