FCC Under Fire Over New Cable Regulation

Nov 20, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Top execs at the four broadcast and cable media companies are warning the Federal Communications Commission about initiating any new regulation of cable industry competition or procedures.
In a joint letter submitted today to the FCC, Peter Chernin, president-chief operating officer of News Corp., Robert Iger, president-CEO of the Walt Disney Co., Philippe Dauman, CEO of Viacom, and Jeff Zucker, president-CEO of NBC Universal, said there is “no conceivable justification of government intervention” in the industry, citing “vibrant competition” for programming and distribution and “myriad options and alternatives” available to consumers for choices.
The letter comes as the FCC released an agenda for its meeting next Tuesday that calls for releasing a report on video competition and a second one about leased access and programming diversity.
The first report is expected to say that cable is now available to 70% of the nation’s homes and is seen in 70% of households, a benchmark that allows the FCC to impose some additional regulation under federal law. The second report could call for cuts in the rates that companies pay to lease channels and also could offer a procedure for arbitrating disputes about carriage of broadcast stations on cable when the two sides don’t voluntarily agree.
Consumer groups and Hollywood unions have called for the FCC to require cable providers to ease cable access to independent programmers or channels. They say the 1984 deregulation of cable set the benchmark as a safety valve against the cable industry getting too much market power and control over what the U.S. sees on cable. The cable industry and broadcasters are worried any mandate could force off some channels to make room for others.
Both issues have raised the ire of the cable providers, prompting Kyle McSlarrow, president-CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, to last week accuse FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin of promoting an anti-cable agenda in an effort to get cable to voluntarily offer a la carte programming, although the agency has no authority to require cable companies to do so. Mr. McSlarrow also has questioned the 70% statistic.
The cable industry has urged its friends and supporters to write Mr. Martin or file comments with the FCC.
Earlier today, a majority of Republicans on the House Energy & Commerce Committee wrote warning that additional regulation of cable was unwarranted. In addition, minority groups sent a letter expressing their concern that any new rules could backfire by forcing off minority programming and channels.
The media execs in their letter today questioned the justification for imposing any new rules.
“We are alarmed at recent press accounts and public statements by FCC officials purporting to find undue concentrations of market power that would justify a wide range of government interventions into the media marketplace where we compete every day,” said the letter.
“To be sure, there was a time when American consumers who wished to enjoy subscription TV had few if any alternatives to their local cable system. … This is no longer the case for the vast majority of U.S. consumers.”
The letter called the U.S. marketplace “preeminent on the world stage” in competition and diversity.
“Ill-considered and unjustified government regulation cannot be permitted to undermine this vibrant American industry,” it said.
In announcing next week’s agenda, the FCC also indicated it intends to act on a program to increase ownership diversity, though it offered no details. The Minority Media & Telecommunications Council has asked the FCC to take action on more than a dozen recommendations to ease the way for minorities and women to get FCC licenses.


  1. Chairman Martin is right.
    Leased channel is obscene, because cable companies can get downright evil with local stations (i.e., LPTV) they don’t like.
    Cox wants $70,000 a month to put our station on cable–20 times more than they’re charging certain cable channels in Wichita.
    Comcast recently raised the rate of one Pennsylvania station by over 2000 percent…you read that right–2000 percent.
    This kind of abuse of power should not be allowed to happen, period. It’s high time the FCC took on this issue, and shame on the nets for siding with the cable companies.

  2. The Reason the networks are siding with cable is because they are each quasi-monopolies of cable channels. They don’t want competition from new, independant channels!! Heck, the most prfitable arm of the Disney Comapny is ESPN! Not ABC network, Not ABC family channel, Not Disney theme parks, not Touchstone pictures!!! Its cable.
    This is such a transparent ruse on their parts. And, doesn’t it smack of collusion for each of the four Network execs to get together and sign one letter?

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