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NCTA’s McSlarrow: 70/70 Call Doesn't Add Up

National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow ripped into the Federal Communications Commission's upcoming finding that the cable industry passed the 70/70 threshold (70% household penetration, 70% of those households subscribing), triggering some potential further regulation of cable by the agency.

In a letter to Martin and the other commissioners Tuesday, McSlarrow used terms like "manipulating data," "policymaking by press leaks," "a false view of the video marketplace" and a "relentless drive for more regulation," as well as " a disturbing pattern of attempts to set policies that harm consumers," to characterize FCC chairman Kevin Martin's revelation that the FCC's new video-competition report -- likely to be issued at its upcoming November public meeting -- will find that cable meets the 70/70 test.

In the commission's last annual report on competition in the multichannel-video marketplace, actually released in 2006, it found that the cable industry had not reached the 70% subscriber figure.

But Martin said this week that the FCC used new figures, supplied by "one of the outside, independent data services that the commission relies on," which showed that cable just edged over that figure, triggering the FCC's ability to "promulgate any additional rules necessary to provide diversity of information sources," according to law.

McSlarrow said the 70/70 threshold has not been met, citing data from Kagan Research, Nielsen Media Research and Warren Communications, adding that the chairman's suggestion that other information showed otherwise continued a pattern in which "important factual inquiries are subject to sudden, inexplicable shifts in the FCC’s methodology and conclusions."

McSlarrow also said it demonstrated "a recurring, disturbing pattern of attempts to set policies that harm consumers."

Asked by a reporter at a Tuesday press conference whether he wanted to use the authority of the 70/70 benchmark to force retail a la carte on cable, Martin said that all the commission was doing in the video-competition report was making a finding that the threshold had been met. "I have not proposed anything for the commission to do anything on a la carte," he added.

"I don't have anything proposed in front of the commission or any plans on doing that," Martin said, adding that he continues to encourage the cable industry to do it voluntarily, "and I also have encouraged Congress to consider options to consider giving consumers more choice."

Martin capped his answer with the invocation of the rise in cable rates over the past decade. That, along with giving viewers more control over indecent or violent content, has been his key rationale for a push for cable a la carte and program unbundling at the wholesale level.