NCTA Pans Program-Access Rules in FCC Filing

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association told the Federal Communications Commission Friday that rather than expanding program-access rules, it should find ways to help cable operators get relief from the rules already in place.

The commission in September extended for another five years that ban on exclusive contracts between program suppliers and their co-owned cable networks. It took steps to toughen its program-access complaint-process and proposed toughening the program-access rules, as well, although it also asked whether it should shorten or remove the ban in markets where it could be shown that there is sufficient competition.

The NCTA told the FCC that there is plenty of competition in every market from satellite, telephone companies, the Internet and broadcasters, and it is not fair to saddle cable with program-access regulations not imposed on satellite.

"To the extent that disparate treatment of [multichannel-video providers] ever was warranted," the trade group added, "there is no basis whatsoever for it to be preserved going forward now that the two large DBS [direct-broadcast satellite] companies are fully competitive, ubiquitously available alternatives to cable."

The NCTA took the opportunity to argue that recent FCC decisions prohibiting exclusive contracts between operators and apartment and condo owners and a vote to reimpose the 30% cap on one cable operator’s household reach would only further tilt the playing field toward its competitors.

The cable association said the FCC's argument that the exclusivity ban was necessary due to increased consolidation and cable-system clustering was spurious, adding that the ban was imposed to ensure that cable competitors reached a critical mass of programming to "establish a foothold." That goal has been achieved, it said.

The NCTA said the commission should not adopt any rules regarding the bundling of cable programming, adding that it would likely be challenged on legal grounds. It also advised against extending the ban to terrestrially delivered networks -- it currently only applies to those delivered to the cable headend by satellite, which provides a carve-out for some regional sports networks -- saying that the commission has no legal footing to do so.

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.