The Federal Communications Commission is seeking to impose new regulations on the mostly unregulated cable television industry.
Under one proposed rule circulating at the FCC, cable companies such as Comcast would be required to cut the price they charge smaller TV programmers to lease access on cable channels. The FCC maintains the move would lead to a wider diversity of shows.
The FCC is also considering a regulation that would bar one company from having more than 30 percent of all cable subscribers, the Washington Post reports.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin believes he has the commission votes needed to pass the “lease access” rule and would like the FCC to vote on it at the commission’s next meeting, set for Nov. 27.
Cable companies are fighting the initiatives, asserting that they would cripple the industry. But Martin told the Post:
“In every other industry regulated by the FCC, there have been significant decreases in the price of services, such as in long-distance and wireless rates. But the one exception to that is cable rates, which have gone up almost 100 percent” over the past 10 years.
Martin wants to take advantage of the so-called 70/70 rule, created by the 1984 Cable Act, which allows the FCC to regulate the industry if cable TV becomes available to 70 percent of American households, and 70 percent of those who can subscribe to cable do so.
Martin believes that point has come, but the cable industry maintains that the proportion of subscribers is closer to 60 percent.
Martin would also like to stop big programmers from forcing cable companies to buy less-popular channels in order to get more-popular ones, according to the Post. Smaller companies would like to be able to carry only the channels they want.
Similarly, Martin would like rules enabling cable subscribers to buy only the channels they want, instead of being forced to pay for bundles of channels. That would lower cable bills for consumers, according to Martin, although cable companies say under that policy less-popular channels would disappear.
“It’s a good thing for consumers,” Gene Kimmelman, director of public policy at the Consumers Union, a watchdog group, told the Financial Times.
“[Martin] has become very aggressive at wheeling and dealing. I’m stunned he’s going this far.”
But Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said in a statement that the implementation of the 70/70 provision would constitute an “unnecessary government intrusion into a marketplace where competition is thriving.”
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