FCC Will Vote on New, Tier-Specific, Leased Access Rates

The FCC will vote on a proposal to charge tier-specific rates for leased access, which is the requirement that cable ops lease channel capacity to unaffiliated programmers at regulated rates.  

That is according to the FCC's tentative agenda for the July 16 public meeting.  

Related: Cable Ops Say Leased Access Rate Regs Need to Go 

Given that the Republican majority is no fan of the rules, period, the further dereg is almost sure to pass. 

Cable ops had argued that leased access rules and rate regs were both outdated and unconstitutional and need to go. Though they did acknowledge the FCC can't simply scrap them since Congress imposed the mandate--FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is nothing if not a strict reader of statute. 

Back in June 2019, the FCC voted unanimously--with a couple of partial dissents--to tweak and review its rules requiring cable operators to provide channel capacity to independent programmers. The Commissioners voted to approve a Report and Order (R&O) and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) that would vacate the FCC's 2008 leased access rules, adopt new rules that "reflect changes in the video programming market," and seek comment on whether the rules should still be in place at all. It did not resolve the issue of changing the rate formula given those market changes. 

But if the leased access rules aren't going away entirely, and Pai signaled in a blog on the agenda that they were not, cable operators don't want to have to charge bargain basement prices for prime tier real estate. 

In the blog, Pai did say the need for the "burdensome" rules has "dramatically diminished" given that "programmers can now choose to distribute their content on a wide variety of online video platforms." 

But he did say the FCC will vote on an order establishing a "simplified tier-specific rate calculation," which he said would ease that burden on cable ops "while also fulfilling our statutory obligation to establish rules for determining maximum reasonable leased access rates," a reference to the Congressional mandate to have such rules, a "burden" Pai clearly signaled he would be happy to lift entirely if it were up to the FCC. 

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.