ACA to FCC: Part-Time Leased Access Rules Should Go

The American Cable Association is backing NCTA-The Internet & Television Association's call for revisiting, and preferably eliminating, the FCC's rules on part-time leased access programming.

That came in its reply comments on the FCC's review of the rules, which deal with cable operator requirements to lease channels to independent programmers and the rates they can charge.

"ACA agrees with NCTA that the Commission should consider eliminating or limiting part-time leases, and permitting cable operators to establish minimum per day purchase requirements," ACA told the commission.

Related: Pai Signals Leased Access Do-Over

ACA and NCTA both complain that the part-time rules are a regulatory invention that imposes added costs for which cable operators are not always sufficiently compensated and that the diverse programming that additional burden was meant to generate is being taken care of by forces in a market "which is more competitive and diverse than Congress or the Commission could ever have imagined," ACA told the commission, adding: "Given the immense variety of distribution outlets available to content creators today, it is no longer supportable for the Commission to force cable operators to accommodate requests for leased access that will never generate sufficient revenue to even cover administrative costs."

Charles Stogner, president of the Leased Access Programmers Association (LAPA), sees it differently.

"[C]able operators wailing about the time and expense of handling leased access are only shedding ‘crocodile tears,' he said. "With leased access being a law since 1984 it’s hard to imagine any cable operator not being aware of the requirements when developing or purchasing an existing system."

If the FCC does not deep-six the part time rules, ACA says it should at least exempt small cable systems. 

The FCC in June voted unanimously to "modernize" its leased access rules.

Related: Stogner Has Access to Grind Over Cable Treatment

Under the current rules, cable operators are required to set aside channels, including part-time use, for lease to unaffiliated third parties according to a set formula: Cable operators with fewer than 36 channels only have to set aside channels if it was part of their franchise agreement before the leased-access rules were enacted. Those with 36 to 54 channels have to set aside 10%. Operators with at least 55 channels have to set aside 15%.

The formula has numerous other elements, including set-asides for minority programming, minimum technical support to the lessees, prohibitions on indecent programming, and rates based on the average "implicit" fee non-leased access programmers pay for carriage, essentially enough to recover costs and turn a profit, and a maximum rate for a la carte.

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.