Leveling the Field for Leased Access

I don’t know if unidentified cable lobbyists are trying to use the old “the Martians are coming” or Henny Penny’s “the sky is falling” tactic, or just drag a plain old red herring through the morass, but whatever they are doing, they’re deliberately using statements that smell of “scare tactics” to continue to have their way with the way Federal Communications Commission handles “leased access.”

Multichannel News quoted an unidentified cable lobbyist saying, “Wouldn’t it be ironic if only soft-core porn was on leased access?” There is soft-core porn all over cable networks, with hard-core fare on HBO and others. Federal law gives cable some leeway in barring “lewd and obscene” content in leased access and to my knowledge, based on 12 years of using and researching leased access, there appears to be only one “hard-core” programmer that made any serious effort to use leased access.

The cable moguls control the playing field, own the ball and have long been the teacher’s pet in the leased-access arena.

For years, the FCC staff entrusted with overseeing leased access was available to unaffiliated programmers in a manner consistent with Congress’s desire for a “genuine outlet” has instead appeared to be a pawn of the cable industry, with respect to the manner of its oversight.

But let’s get past the hyperbole and let me, as president of the national leased-access programmers association, offer cable an olive branch and a suggestion as to how they can make lemonade out of the lemon Congress handed them as leased access.

First, let’s get past the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s reply to comments where they deftly don’t discuss cable sites selling airtime on their own local-origination channels, competing sometimes with a leased-access operator for the same prospective client, at a rate equal to or less than the leased rate they claim is “too low.” If the rate is too low, why then do they lower their own rates to compete with it? This doesn’t make any sense.

Here are my suggestions to have cable cease all manner of tactics to discourage use of leased access in what could be deemed simple contempt as they try to avoid meeting the wishes of Congress and release cable’s influence over the FCC staff — where the record clearly shows the staff assisting cable in resisting leased access use — and join users in developing good locally focused content that can help cable compete with satellite.

First adopt an attitude of full compliance and cooperation. Second, provide LAPers (leased-access programmers) the same “level playing field” cable cries for. Third, provide actual “same type” signal delivery and the necessary headend equipment as they do for non-leased users. Fourth, adhere to the FCC position of LAPers being on channels with “the most subscribers.” And fifth, allow us to be vendors for cable services such as commercial broadband to our clients and enable LAPers to promote the cable’s broadband as a means of having local 'live remote’ much like radio enjoys.

I can think of a few more areas where cooperation rather than a continued adversarial relationship can prove to be beneficial to both sides and at the same time come closer to fulfilling what Congress seemed to want when the law was created.

So, to Kyle McSlarrow, Matt Polka and the heads of the cable companies — here’s my olive branch.