Midcontinent Becomes Third Op to Ankle ACA

The American Cable Association, a lobbying group for independent cable companies, has lost a third member, with this week’s defection of Midcontinent Communications.Midcontinent, based in South Dakota with 200,000 subscribers.

Midcontinent joins Bresnan Communications and Atlantic Broadband in quitting the ACA over the group’s recent filing with federal regulators on program bundling and retransmission consent.

With the defection, the ACA has lost cable systems representing about 700,000 subscribers, or 10% of the group’s original 8 million subscribers.

“Bresnan, Midcontinent and Atlantic Broadband have been excellent companies we’ve had the opportunity to work with,” ACA president Matt Polka said Friday. “We honestly hope to have them back in our organization some day, because their companies are representative of a lot of the concerns that are independent cable companies have. So while there may be some difference of opinion on our filing, there are many other issues where our action is directly representative of their companies’ views.”

Midcontinent and the two other cable companies objected to a filing the ACA made earlier this month made with the Federal Communications Commission that called for programmers to be prevented from tying carriage of their various channels. The three operators don’t believe that the FCC has jurisdiction in that matter.

“It’s very difficult to ask the FCC to unbundle on a wholesale basis for us, when we really can’t agree with the position the chairman has taken on unbundling in the form of a la carte,” Tom Simmons, Midcontinent’s senior vice president of public policy, said. “That strikes me as being very inconsistent.”

 “We feel we reserve the right to operate in the best interest of our customers,” Simmons said. “This position is very much in consistent with what we have been seeing all along. That is the grounds [for leaving the ACA].”

Comcast owns stakes in Bresnan and Midcontinent, and the nation’s largest cable company has also taken the position that the FCC doesn’t have any authority to impose rules regarding program tying.  

Simmons said his company’s decision to leave the ACA was done independently. “There was no coercion at all on the part of Comcast,” he said. “In fact, I have not personally discussed it with them at all, our decision.”

The ACA doesn’t think there will be any more member defections over the FCC filing.

“We do not expect other companies to leave over it,” Polka said. “What is important to note is that over 1,000 companies, over the vast majority of our companies, independent cable companies are supportive of our efforts to proceed both on retransmission consent and the programming tying issue.” 

Earlier this week, during its first quarter meeting the ACA’s board appointed Steve Friedman, Wave Broadband chief operating officer, as vice chair.  Friedman replaces Atlantic Broadband CEO David Keefe in that slot.

“We are clearly moving forward with full support of our membership and the support of our board,” Polka said. “We’re not backing down or changing our position as a result of their individual decisions of these companies.”