NCTA’s McSlarrow Blasts FCC on Cable Issues

Dec 19, 2006  •  Post A Comment

National Cable & Telecommunications Association President and CEO Kyle McSlarrow today used a year-end review of industry issues to take an unusual public swipe at Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin.

“I think there is a disconnect between the rhetoric of free market and the types of proposals offered by the leadership of the commission,” Mr. McSlarrow told reporters during a telephone press conference.

He said Mr. Martin’s efforts to give consumers more say in selecting channels they get, to require cable companies to carry all broadcasters’ digital multicast channels and to force disclosure of agreements between cable operators and channels amount to “one of most sweeping regulatory agendas” in Washington and “micromanagement” of issues better settled by industry competition.

Asked by one reporter whether Mr. Martin had it “out” for cable, Mr. McSlarrow replied, “You have to ask him. I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the industry is doing. It’s almost like they are viewing it through a time warp.”

Mr. McSlarrow’s comments came as the FCC meets tomorrow to release an annual cable pricing report and to vote on a proposal to ease the way for phone companies to get new local cable TV franchises. The latter proposal mandates cities act within 90 days on applications and may limit what cities can seek in fees and other compensation.

Mr. McSlarrow today called the pricing report “almost an anachronism” and entirely useless “as a foundation for any policy decision.” He said it uses two-year-old data about analog tiers that 50 percent to 60 percent of cable TV viewers don’t get, and even then reports rate-card pricing that doesn’t reflect various discount cable promotions. He said in real life, consumers getting digital channels and signing up for packages that can include cable, Internet and phone service have seen value for what they are paying going up. He said the report also doesn’t track satellite services price hikes.

He also questioned the report’s release date. “It is unclear why a report that was clearly finished early this year was kept under wraps,” he said.

Mr. McSlarrow said the franchising proposal would alter regulations that have existed for 20 years and while he said he hasn’t seen the details, expressed concern it would give phone companies an unfair competitive edge. He warned his group might sue if that happened. He said the FCC may need congressional action to act.

He called “ironic” that the FCC, notoriously late in completing its own reviews, was trying to tell other governments they have only 90 days to review applications.

(Editor: Gilbert)