ACA’s Broadband Principles

The following is an edited excerpt from comments by American Cable Association chairman Robert Gessner, president of MCTV in Massillon, Ohio, on March 2 at the 23rd ACA Summit in Washington, D.C.

Though traditional TV service remains important, broadband Internet is ACA’s future. We have established three basic principles to guide our advocacy regarding government involvement in the broadband Internet market:

• Statutes and regulations should be competitively and technologically neutral. They should facilitate network deployments and be targeted to minimize any adverse economic impact on smaller providers and their subscribers;

• Market consolidation and concentration that would harm consumers or competition should be prevented.

• Smaller providers should not be unreasonably disadvantaged. They should be protected from undue market power, unfair or deceptive acts or practices, or other actions contrary to the public interest.

ACA gained a number of policy victories at the FCC. I’ll mention two. First, under a recent FCC order, every cable operator in the country, large or small, is considered subject to effective competition and no longer subject to local price controls.

Second, ACA persuaded the FCC to require Dish Network and DirecTV to pay their fair share of FCC Media Bureau regulatory fees. Dish and DirecTV will pay $4.1 million this year, and I expect that to increase over time.

We do face many challenges. Last year, the FCC imposed Title II common-carrier regulation on us, in one of the biggest policy shifts in FCC history. This FCC action has divided the industry into hostile camps — ISPs on one side, edge providers on the other. ACA is fighting to roll back these harmful regulations. A court ruling is expected in the near future.

Another challenge is retransmission consent. Retrans fees soar while broadcast ratings sink. Why? Because broadcast stations exploit outdated federal rules to gouge viewers. During the past decade, retrans fees have risen by 22,400 percent. SNL Kagan projects MVPD retrans payments will reach $10.3 billion by 2021.

ACA’s persistent efforts encouraged the FCC to open a rulemaking to review its rules that require TV stations and MVPDs to negotiate in good faith. ACA submitted numerous recommendations for determining whether certain conduct is a per se violation of good faith or, at the very least, evidence of bad faith:

Here are just a few:

• It’s bad faith for a TV station to insist on bundling top four-rated broadcast signals with regional sports networks or other “must have” programming.

• It’s bad faith for a TV station to black out linear programming before “marquee” events.

• It’s bad faith for a TV station to black out online programming to gain leverage.

ACA also has been a steady voice at the FCC about the abuses MVPDs suffer at the hands of non-broadcast content companies. Recently, the FCC started a Notice of Inquiry into their practices. ACA will highlight the difficulties ACA members face in providing the services consumers desire.

Another challenge is set-top box regulation. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has launched his “unlock the box” campaign to require new technical mandates to open all set-top boxes to third-party use. ACA thinks this proposal is horribly misguided. It would inappropriately insert the government into a market teeming with participants, innovation and tens of millions of satisfied consumers.