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Frustration Continues for Leased-Access Programmers

The head of the Leased Access Programmers Association wrote Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin to express his continuing frustration with what he said is a lack of access to cable systems, specifically via Internet delivery of Internet-protocol-TV signals.

The FCC issued new rules in February designed to lower the price of leased access and make it easier to resolve complaints about access, but those rules were stayed in federal court after a group of cable networks complained about them.

LAPA president Charlie Stogner complained that the FCC's Cable Services Bureau "gently tapped the back of the hands of cable sites that have committed egregious, harmful acts against leased-access programmers."

But in addition to his general criticisms of the FCC's complaint-resolution process for leased-access issues, he also asked the commission to act on a petition for relief he filed over the issue of how a signal is delivered to the cable headend. Stogner pointed out that while some cable operators, including Comcast, don't charge for Internet delivery, others do, and at least one cable operator refused to accept an Internet-delivered signal at all.

Stogner is concerned that the court's stay put that and other complaints in limbo -- a concern that appears justified given an FCC staffer's e-mailed response to Stogner's inquiry about the status of the petition: "Leased-access petitions have no formal start date since the time clock has been stayed."

"Can you, will you, direct the Media Services Bureau to proceed with the petition for relief regarding leased-access programming delivered to cable sites via the Internet?" Stogner asked Martin. A spokesman for the chairman was not available for comment at press time.

Cable operators are required by FCC rules to make channels available for lease by outside programmers, and Martin is attempting to lower the rates cable charges them and improve the complaint-resolution process as part of an overarching strategy of spurring more choice and competition in cable service.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association had no comment on Stogner's letter or complaints about access, but it has made it clear that it opposes Martin's rule changes.

The NCTA filed suit against the new rules March 13, calling the decision arbitrary and capricious and a violation of procedure, as well as an "unlawful burden on speech" (First Amendment) and an unconstitutional "uncompensated taking of private property" (Fifth Amendment).

John Eggerton
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.