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Don't Tread on Us, States Tell FCC’s Martin

The National Conference of State Legislators agrees with top cable company Comcast that the Federal Communications Commission should leave exclusive contracts for cable service in apartments and condos to the marketplace, saying that to ban them from Washington would impinge on the state sovereignty.

In a letter sent to FCC chairman Kevin Martin, Maryland state Sen. Delores Kelly (D-Baltimore County), chair of the communications committee for the NCSL, said an FCC ban on the contracts would be an "unwarranted presumption of state authority," adding that the group "respectfully requests that you refrain from adopting any administrative order."

She argued that a ban would be litigated for years in the federal courts, and that while the NCLS shared Martin's concern for competition in the video marketplace -- and was instrumental in pushing for state-level video-franchise reform that helped to open the marketplace to cable competitors -- any attempt to "pre-empt state treatment of existing contracts" would be unwelcome.

Comcast echoed those sentiments to the FCC, including sending the NCLS letter to commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, in a recent filing in the FCC's inquiry into those exclusive contracts.

Martin, at an Oct. 12 minority media conference in Washington, D.C., said he circulated an order to the other commissioners disallowing the exclusive contracts, which he said led to higher prices for subscribers and less choice in multichannel-video service, and which disproportionately affected minorities since 40% of African-American heads of household lived in apartments.