ACA Pushes FCC To Give NCTC Real Program Access Muscle

The American Cable Association continues to push the FCC to act on its longstanding proposal to grant the National Cable Television Cooperative status to file program access complaints.

ACA collected 53 signatures on a letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to move on the item, particularly in light of the Comcast-NBCU union, the Liberty-Charter combo, and possible Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger that they say put their members at an even greater competitive disadvantage without the ability for such buying groups to collectively file complaints.

NCTC is a nonprofit consortium of smaller cable operators that negotiates program carriage deals as a group in order to get volume discounts.

"Nearly every small and medium sized MVPD – a group that numbers nearly 900 companies, purchases the bulk of its programming through [NCTC]," they wrote. "Although Congress explicitly instructed the Commission to adopt program access rules that provide protection to buying groups, the agency has failed to carry out this statutory directive by defining a “buying group” in a manner that effectively excludes NCTC. Because NCTC has no means of utilizing the program access rules for redress against discrimination, our companies, and all other NCTC members, have essentially no protection from cable-affiliated programmers, in stark disregard of Congress’ intent.

As currently defined, a buying group to qualify for standing to file a complaint has to assume "full liability for payments due to programmers under a master agreement," even though programmers didn't require that as part of their contracts.

The FCC proposed changing the definition in a notice that accompanied its order sunsetting the ban on exclusive contracts between distributors and their co-owned networks.

"ACA has since made repeated requests of the FCC to act on this rulemaking. Yet, as the commission soon considers whether to approve one of the largest vertical cable mergers ever, involving about 12 million TWC customers, small and medium-sized MVPDs like us are left waiting and wondering whether we’ll ever be given the full protections that Congress intended," the association said.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.