Frequently Asked Questions


 

Does Fairfax County regulate cable rates?

Fairfax County does not regulate rates for cable television service. Federal law prevents local governments from regulating cable rates where there is "effective competition" as defined by federal law. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled in March 2007 that there was "effective competition" in the County. If you have questions about the rates charged by a cable operator, contact the Communications Policy and Regulation Division or call 703-324-5902, TTY 711.

What do the “franchise fees” and “Public, Educational and Government (PEG) support” charges on my cable bill mean?

Fairfax County’s cable franchise agreements require the cable operators to pay for the use of the public rights-of-way through franchise fees and support for Public, Educational and Government (PEG) cable channels. Federal law allows the cable operators to pass on these fees to subscribers. A portion of these fees goes to support Channel 16, the Fairfax County government channel, and the government institutional network.

Do I have a choice of cable providers?

The county issues only non-exclusive franchises for cable television service. The Board of Supervisors revised the County Code to make it easier for competitive cable service providers to enter the market. Fairfax County currently administers three cable franchises. Comcast Cable provides cable television service to subscribers in the Reston area of Fairfax County. Cox Communications provides cable television service to subscribers in all other areas of the county. Verizon provides cable service in certain areas of the County overlapping those served by Cox and Comcast.

Why have WMPT and WHUT been removed from analog service on the Cox system?

On June 12, 2009 Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) affiliates WMPT and WHUT moved from Cox’s analog basic tier to digital-only carriage.  This change was made as a result of a voluntary agreement between APTS (the Association of Public Television Stations) and NCTA (the National Cable and Telecommunications Association) in late 2008.  Although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has not issued a specific ruling on this agreement, the FCC has taken no action to prevent it from taking effect.

As a result of the APTS-NCTA agreement, WHUT and WMPT have given up their “must carry” rights to transmission on the analog tier.  In return, they will now be able to transmit several digital channels or streams of programming, rather than just one analog channel.

Because WHUT and WMPT are no longer carried in analog form, some subscribers will now need to obtain set-top boxes to view those channels.  Prior to June 12, 2009, subscribers with Cox’s analog service that had older analog (non-digital) TVs were able to receive WHUT and WMPT without a set-top box (if the TVs were cable-ready), or using only an analog set-top box (if the TVs were not cable-ready).  Those subscribers will now need a digital set-top box to view WHUT and WMPT.  To ease this transition, Cox has offered a basic version of its digital set-top box to subscribers for free for up to 6 months.

Although Cox now carries WHUT and WMPT only in digital form, WETA, a PBS affiliate with studios in Arlington, VA, retains its primary channel (Channel 26-1) in the basic analog tier in Fairfax County as Channel 26.  This channel continues to be viewable to all basic analog tier subscribers.

The voluntary agreement between APTS and NCTA is similar to “must-carry” agreements that are typically negotiated by commercial stations.  The “must-carry” rules do not strictly apply to the PBS stations:  they are noncommercial educational television stations or “NCE,” with different rights under federal law.  But the APTS-NCTA agreement can be seen as similar to a commercial must-carry agreement, under which a broadcast station and a cable company agree on the terms by which the broadcast channel is carried.  This view is consistent with the fact that the FCC has not objected to the agreement, but has allowed it to take effect.

Where can I find the cable franchise agreements and county ordinance pertaining to cable regulation?

Cox Communications Franchise Agreement
Comcast Cable Franchise Agreement
Verizon Cable Franchise Agreement
Fairfax County Communications Ordinance

 


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