House Members Push FCC for NCTC Program-Access Rights

A bipartisan quartet of House Communications subcommittee members is pressing the Federal Communications Commission to grant the National Cable Television Cooperative the same program-access rules that are available to individual program distributors, correcting what they called an "oversight" in the implementation of the will of Congress.

That “will” was the 1992 Cable Act directive that multichannel video programming distributors and buying groups, "without qualification," were to be protected from discriminatory treatment by cable-affiliated programmers, the legislators said in a letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.

The NCTC is a nonprofit consortium of smaller cable operators that negotiates program-carriage deals as a group to obtain volume discounts.

Currently the FCC's definition of a buying group excludes the NCTC. The American Cable Association initially asked for a declaratory ruling that programming buying groups -- specifically the NCTC -- qualify for program-access protections. The FCC in 2012 tentatively concluded that should be the case, and the agency proposed changing the definition in a notice that accompanied its order sunsetting the ban on exclusive contracts between distributors and their co-owned networks. But the commission has taken no action on a final order.

The issue also came up at a Hill hearing last month featuring House members, including those signing on to the Wheeler letter seeking FCC action: Reps. Bob Latta and Bill Johnson (both R-Ohio), Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.).

"Based on what we have heard and read," they told Wheeler, "we urge the Commission to take action quickly and update its definition for a buying group ... to ensure that buying groups as they operate in the marketplace today, like the NCTC, can use these rules to protect its members from discriminatory practices, as Congress intended."

They also said they wanted Wheeler to keep them in the loop on any planned action.

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.