In connection with our pending acquisitions, we have formed
multi-disciplinary teams to formulate plans for establishing customer service
centers, identifying property, plant and equipment requirements and possible
reduction of headends. Headends are the control centers of a cable television
system, where incoming signals are amplified, converted, processed and combined
for transmission to customer. These teams also determine market position and how
to attract "talented" personnel. Our goals include rapid transition in achieving
performance objectives and implementing "best practice" procedures.
REGULATION AND LEGISLATION. Cable systems are extensively regulated at the
federal, state, and local level. These regulations have increased the
administrative and operational expenses of cable television systems and affected
the development of cable competition. Rate regulation of cable systems has been
in place since passage of the Cable Television Consumer Protection and
Competition Act of 1992, although the scope of this regulation recently was
sharply contracted. Since March 31, 1999, rate regulation exists only with
respect to the lowest level of basic cable service and associated equipment.
Basic cable service is the service that cable customers receive for a threshold
fee. This service usually includes local television stations, some distant
signals and perhaps one or more non-broadcast services. This change affords
cable operators much greater pricing flexibility, although Congress could
revisit this issue if confronted with substantial rate increases.
Cable operators also face significant regulation of their channel capacity.
They currently can be required to devote substantial capacity to the carriage of
programming that they would not carry voluntarily, including certain local
broadcast signals, local public, educational and government access users, and
unaffiliated commercial leased access programmers. This carriage burden could
increase in the future, particularly if the Federal Communications Commission
were to require cable systems to carry both the analog and digital versions of
local broadcast signals or if it were to allow unaffiliated internet service
providers seeking direct cable access to invoke commercial leased access rights
originally devised for video programmers. The Federal Communications Commission
is currently conducting proceedings in which it is considering both of these
channel usage possibilities.
There is also uncertainty whether local franchising authorities, the
Federal Communications Commission, or the U.S. Congress will impose obligations
on cable operators to provide unaffiliated Internet service providers with
access to cable plant on non-discriminatory terms. If they were to do so, and
the obligations were found to be lawful, it could complicate our operations in
general, and our Internet operations in particular, from a technical and
marketing standpoint. These access obligations could adversely impact our
profitability and discourage system upgrades and the introduction of new
products and services.
INTEREST RATE RISK
The use of interest rate risk management instruments, such as interest rate
exchange agreements, interest rate cap agreements and interest rate collar
agreements, is required under the terms of our credit facilities. Our policy is
to manage interest costs using a mix of fixed and variable rate debt. Using
interest rate swap agreements, we agree to exchange, at specified intervals, the
difference between fixed and variable interest amounts calculated by reference
to an agreed-upon notional principal amount. Interest rate cap agreements are
used to lock in a maximum interest rate should variable rates rise, but enable
us to otherwise pay lower market rates. Collars limit our exposure to and
benefits from interest rate fluctuations on variable rate debt to within a
certain range of rates.