RE: Cable TV Broadcast Retransmission Consent Feuds "Ease Up" [Telecom]

"Kenneth P. Stox" asked:

Didn't those used to be referred to as MATV ( Master > Antenna Television) Systems?

An MATV system performs the same function as a CATV/Cable TV system, but with one crucial difference: an MATV does not cross public rights-of-way with any physical medium (copper, glass, or plastic).

This may sound like a trivial distinction, but it's vitally important to the parties involved. MATVs do not fall within the legal definition of cable television systems. As such:

- They are exempt from local regulation concerning rates, content, level of services, or franchise fees.

- They are exempt from most federal regulations applicable to CATV systems.

- They are not subject to the must-carry provisions of the 1992 Cable Act, although they are subject to retransmission consent. See

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Many MATV systems are quite small. A four-unit apartment building with a rooftop antenna and a Radio Shack amplifier in the attic is an MATV.

At the other end of the spectrum, some MATVs can be quite extensive:

- Apartment/condo complexes.

- Mobile home and RV parks.

- Medical facilities (hospitals, retirement communities, hospice facilities).

- Government facilities (prisons, military bases, state and national parks).

- Educational facilities (college and university campuses).

- Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs).

Many large MATV systems operate on a commercial basis, and charge monthly (or weekly or daily) fees. They call themselves Private Cable Operators (PCOs); they're represented nationally by the Independent Multi-Family Communications Council (IMCC).

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To illustrate the distinction between an MATV and a CATV, here's an example. If a large apartment or condo complex operates a video distribution network serving a few hundred residents in a dozen buildings, is it an MATV (PCO) or a CATV?

If the complex is entirely contained within one piece of property, and none of its physical facilities ever crosses a public street or alley, it's an MATV. But if, say, there's a public street or alley running through the middle of the property, can it connect the two halves of the complex together with a physical medium (coax or fiber) and still be an MATV?

The local franchising facility (LFA) would assert that it's a CATV, and try to regulate it (and, not coincidentally, collect that 5.26% franchise fee).

But what if the connection across the street is a beam of infrared light? Is it a CATV or an MATV?

What about the landlord that owns dozens of apartment buildings scattered across a city, and connects them with 18-GHz microwave links? [Is this] CATV or MATV?

What about a University campus with several residence hall buildings connected through century-old underground steam tunnels. If it installs a coax through a tunnel under a public street to connect residence halls to a campus video network (and charges residents for the video service), is it operating as a CATV or an MATV?

What about a MUD that owns the public streets, the land beneath the public streets, the electrical, gas, water, and wastewater utilities, and the video distribution network. Is that network CATV or MATV?

Numerous consultants and lawyers have made a lot of money arguing these questions.

Neal McLain

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Neal McLain
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