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WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted along partisan lines to treat cable-related in-kind contributions required by local franchising authorities (LFAs) as “franchise fees,” and consequently subject them to the cap limiting franchise fees to just 5 percent of a cable operator’s revenues.

The decision undermines existing franchise provisions agreed to by cable operators, communities and municipalities, such as requirements that cable operators provide discounted service to schools, build public-safety communications infrastructure, and support public, educational or government access television stations known as PEG channels.

Free Press Policy Manager Dana Floberg made the following statement:

“This decision ignores the clear language of the law and threatens valuable community resources. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai chose to radically redefine franchise fees so that local governments will be forced to choose among critically important priorities and sacrifice community needs.

“By voting to arbitrarily and over-broadly redefine franchise fees, the Commission’s GOP majority has ignored clear statutory language, legislative history and vehement public opposition. Franchise agreements allow local governments to ensure that cable operators serve communities in exchange for using valuable public rights of way.

“Baselessly subjecting all of those provisions to a 5-percent cap that isn’t applicable to them serves Chairman Pai’s corporate-friendly ideology, but is unsupported by the record and common sense. The abuses this decision seeks to combat are the stuff of fiction — but the harms it will visit on local communities are all too real.

"We’re grateful to FCC Commissioners Rosenworcel and Starks for highlighting the harmful impact this decision will have on local newsgathering. Once again, the Trump FCC seeks to diminish rather than enhance local capacity to provide news and information services to U.S. communities struggling to stay informed."

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