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NCTA: Leave Leased-Access and Program-Sales Model Alone

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin said last week that he thought the FCC should lower leased-access rates as a way to help minorities get more access to media outlets, and that the agency should unbundle cable programming at the wholesale level.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association had no official response to Martin's comments -- delivered at a minority media conference in Washington, D.C. -- but it had a lot to say to the FCC in comments filed in the commission’s inquiry into whether to make those changes to the leased-access and program-access rules.

On the issue of leased access and minority programmers, Martin said Friday that the FCC should re-examine leased-access rules "to better encourage independent programmers.”

The NCTA said in comments filed the same day that subscription fees are "critical" to the viability of independent programming services and pointed to comments from Black Television News Channel that "leased access does not support the development of independent national programming."

The trade group suggested that cable operators aren't necessarily being compensated sufficiently as it is for the logistics of leasing capacity.

As for changing the program access rules, Martin told the Rainbow/PUSH conference Friday that networks are bundled together to maximize distribution and viewers are forced to take channels they aren't asking for -- the same argument he made for unbundling programming at the subscriber level through a la carte.

The NCTA said there is plenty of competition that provides the spur to cable operators' choice of what channels to deliver to its audience. "An MVPD [multichannel-video provider] that fails to provide consumers with the programming they demand will be quickly left behind for MVPDs that do," it added. "Under these circumstances, there is no reason for the commission to intrude further into the legitimate exercise of editorial discretion by cable operators."