FCC Releases Leased-Access-Rules Order

The Federal Communications Commission released its order revamping leased-access rules and fees, including requiring cable operators to file an annual report on their compliance with the rules.

Just hours after Leased Access Programmers Association president Charlie Stogner expressed his continuing frustration with the pace of the FCC's pursuit of leased-access complaints and its failure to release a final order, the commission released its new rules.

Stogner was still reviewing the new rules at press time, but said he thought the new annual report could be "one of the most constructive and proactive rules the FCC has adopted."

The commission in November voted to lower the rates cable operators charged leased-access programmers and speed up the complaint process, with the majority arguing that it would lead to greater program diversity.

Cable operators are required by law to set aside channels for lease by outside programmers.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin has argued that there are relatively few leased-access programmers because rates have been artificially high, and that lowering the rates will "increase the use of leased-access channels and, thereby, enhance the diversity of programming.”

By contrast, Republican commissioner Robert McDowell, who opposed the changes, argued that the reason why leased access is not prevalent is that it is an unworkable business model -- paying for carriage rather than receiving a fee -- and that the rule change will result in a lack of diversity.

He added that the FCC's decision not to apply the rate cut to infomercial-based leased access operations makes the rules legally suspect. "I cannot fathom how distinguishing programmers based on the content they deliver can be constitutional," he said in a statement.

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.