FCC Chairman Takes Aim At Cable Monopolies

Newly emboldened FCC Chairman Kevin Martin plans to wield the Cable Communications Act of 1984 to shatter the cable industry’s anti-competitive practices. The proposed regulations would give consumers flexible, diverse programming at cheaper rates, while capping the cancerous growth of conglomerates like Comcast and Time Warner.

The commission is preparing to take steps to make it less expensive for rivals of the largest cable conglomerates to buy their programs — so that, for instance, a satellite company would find it less expensive to purchase programs by the Turner Broadcasting System, a unit of Time Warner.

One of the proposals under consideration by the commission would force the programming of the largest cable networks to be offered to the rivals of the big cable companies on an individual, rather than packaged, basis. That proposal, known as “wholesale à la carte,” is vigorously opposed by the large cable companies.

The agency is also preparing to adopt a rule this month that would make it easier for independent programmers, which are often small operations, to lease access to cable channels.

And Mr. Martin has been circulating a plan that would use the finding on cable television dominance to set a cap on the size of the nation’s largest cable companies so that no company could control more than 30 percent of the market.

À la carte programming would allow us to subscribe exclusively to Comedy Central without paying for useless filler like The Disney Channel. Selections may vary by household.

The Chairman is assuming the broad new regulatory powers under what is known as the 70/70 rule. Once the FCC finds that cable is available to 70% of American households, and that 70% of those households subscribe, the FCC is empowered by the Cable Communications Act of 1984 to promote “diversity of information sources.” Expect the cable industry to poach Verizon’s dragon-riding lawyers to argue that the requirements of the 70/70 rule have not yet been met.

F.C.C. Planning Rules to Open Cable Market [NYT]
(Photo: Jiri Kopsa)