Mediacom Urges FCC to Unbundle

Mediacom Monday asked the FCC to adopt new rules that would prevent volume-based discounts in program carriage deals, insure access to content online, and require the disclosure of rates.

That came in a petition for expedited rulemaking filed by the cable operator. The FCC is under no obligation to act on the petition, but it puts Mediacom's asks on the table.

Mediacom said the relationship between programmers and distributors is broken, that the marketplace as it has evolved thanks to Washington is anti-competitive and anti-consumer, and that Washington needs to fix it. It even co-opts some network neutrality language usually used by content providers towards ISPs, saying one thing the FCC needs to do is prevent programmers from blocking or restricting access to online content.

Mediacom wants the FCC to unbundle deals dominated by six "media giants" who control more than 125 cable nets, including must-have programming. Mediacom even added the recent talk of a possible News Corp./Time Warner merger to make its point that big companies are getting bigger, adding that broadcast groups are heavying up, too.

Mediacom says that FCC policies have radically transformed the marketplace from one in which cable dominated to one in which programmers, broadband and cable, have the "upper hand," which it suggests they use to wield a club in the form of forced wholesale and retail packaging of content.

Tier placement, minimum penetration requirements, volume discounts, and access to online content are all in the bundler's arsenal, says Mediacom, and the FCC needs to disarm.

Mediacom is seeking the following new rule regime:

1. Give MVPDs an a la carte option for new channels or the most expensive.

2. Give MVPDs an unbundling option, with information about other offers and bundles

3. Prohibit the blocking or restricting of Internet access to programming as a negotiating tactic in agreements

4. Only allow volume discounts if they can be justified through waivers.

"Programmers that control must-have programming (both broadcast and non-broadcast) have both the incentive and ability to use volume discounting and bundling practices in ways that distort fair competition and harm consumers," said Mediacom, which adds that they can be expected to exercise that power in trying to stop the petition.

"Without doubt, the programmers will do everything in their power to smother this Petition for Rulemaking in its crib. They will do so, among other things, by arguing loudly and strenuously that the Commission lacks the authority to adopt the rules proposed herein."

"The Commission's authority to adopt the proposed rules is clear from the face of several relevant statutory provisions, from the Commission's own decisions, and from the decisions of the courts," said Mediacom.

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.