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House Members Push for NCTC Program Access Rights

A bipartisan quartet of House Communications Subcommittee members is pressing the FCC to grant the National Cable Television Cooperative access to the 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 MVPDs and buying groups, "without qualification," were to be protected from discriminatory treatment by cable-affiliated programmers, said the legislators in a letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.

NCTC is a nonprofit consortium of smaller cable operators that negotiates program carriage deals as a group in order to get volume discounts.

Currently the FCC's definition of a buying group excludes NCTC. The American Cable Association initially asked for a declaratory ruling that programming buying groups – specifically the National Cable Television Cooperative – qualify for program-access protections. The FCC in 2012 tentatively concluded that should be the case—the FCC 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 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.

"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 ensure that buying groups as they operating 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.

Signing on to the letter were Reps. Bob Latta and Bill Johnson (both R-Ohio), Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), and Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.).

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.