Communications Policy and Regulation Division

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: Open during regular business hours 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Monday - Friday

703-324-5902
TTY 711

12000 Government Center Parkway
Suite 433

Rick Ellrod,
Director

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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. See 47 USC § 543 . The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled in 2007 and 2008 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.

As of March 2019, cable operators take the position that a so-called price guarantee - for example, a fixed price in exchange for a two-year contract - does not prevent the company from adding new fees or surcharges, or increasing existing surcharges at will, so that the subscriber has to pay more to receive the purchased service tier.  Such surcharges include the “broadcast fee” and “regional sports network fee” (see separate FAQ on those charges).  The company may also raise its rates for the equipment needed to receive the service, such as a set-top box.

Cable operators may also change the programming on the selected tier at any time.  If the company moves off the tier some of the channels the subscriber wants, the subscriber may have to pay more for a package that includes the desired programming.

Consumers are advised to recognize these limitations when signing up for a cable provider contract that promises a “fixed” price for the contract term.

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

These fees are add-on charges by the cable company.  The “broadcast fee” represents some part of what local broadcasters charge the cable TV provider to carry their channels.  Similarly, the “regional sports network fee” itemizes some part of the cable provider’s cost for carrying regional sports channels on their system.  Neither charge is a government-required fee, tax or pass-through.  Rather, itemizing such amounts separately increases the money the cable provider receives from subscribers while allowing it to quote or advertise a lower rate for the cable service package itself.  Under federal law, Fairfax County has no authority to set cable rates.

A homeowner’s property rights are subject to “easements” that allow other parties to use parts of the property for certain purposes. For example, a utility easement generally allows public utilities to run their lines through a yard next to the street.

The documents a homeowner received when closing the sale usually include a title search or property plat showing the easements on the property at the time of purchase. Easements are also recorded on the property’s title records, which can be searched at Land Records on the third floor of the County courthouse (main number 703-246-4102, information desk 703-246-4102).

For further information, see Homeowners Have Rights During Utility Construction.


In the County, public access channels are provided by an independent 501(c)(3) entity, Fairfax Cable Access Corporation (also known as Fairfax Public Access). A public access channel is open to any lawful speech. The views expressed on public access are not those of the County or of FCAC, but only those of the individual speakers on each program.

The First Amendment to the Constitution prevents a government from censoring what citizens say on public access channels. Thus, even if programming is false or otherwise objectionable, a speaker is free to present that programming as long as it is not unlawful. (For example, obscenity, as defined by law, may be prohibited; but political views with which the County disagrees may not be prohibited.)

The American right to free speech is based on the principle that the best antidote to bad speech is better speech. Thus, those who disagree with objectionable programming are free to refute it. Public access studios are open to those who wish to develop forceful rebuttals. The County encourages cogent, effective responses to “hate speech” and misinformation.

As distinct from public access channels, educational and governmental channels are directly controlled by the educational and governmental institutions that operate them. Questions concerning material on Fairfax County Government Channel 16 may properly be directed to the County.

For further information regarding the County’s public access channels, citizens may contact Chuck Finn Peña, Executive Director of Fairfax Public Access, at 571-749-1100 or cpena@fcac.org. General questions regarding cable programming may be addressed to the Communications Policy and Regulation Division of the Department of Cable Communications and Consumer Protection at 703-324-5902 or cprd@fairfaxcounty.gov.

Commercial broadcast stations can elect to require carriage on cable systems (“must carry”), or negotiate with the local cable provider to carry their programming for a price (“retransmission consent”). If the broadcaster chooses retransmission consent, and does not reach an agreement with the cable operator, the broadcast channel will be removed from the cable system.

Noncommercial broadcast stations operate under a different set of must-carry rules. 47 USC § 535

Under federal law, the County cannot require a cable operator to carry particular channels in its programming packages. See 47 U.S.C. § 544(a)-(b).

Under normal conditions, a cable operator does have to provide subscribers with thirty days’ advance notice of channel changes. 47 C.F.R. § 76.1603(b)-(3).

TV channels in Fairfax County - plan to re-scan!  During the next year, some TV channels throughout the USA will be changing their frequencies as a result of the FCC’s “repacking” of frequencies to make room for new services.  If you watch TV using an over-the-air antenna, you will need to re-scan your TV periodically to find the new channel locations.
Here is detailed information from the FCC: https://www.fcc.gov/TVrescan 
The FCC makes this information available in several other languages.
 

The picture below shows which channels in Fairfax County will be affected by the FCC’s channel “repacking.”

channel repack 2019 schedule OTA

 

Fairfax Virtual Assistant