American Cable Association president
and CEO Matt Polka looks ahead at
what 2011 could mean to the small and
midsized cable operators he represents,
including their need to closely monitor
the Comcast-NBC Universal joint venture
and his group’s campaign for retransmission-
consent relief as a new round of
retrans deals comes due. He spoke with
Multichannel News Washington bureau
chief John Eggerton.
MCN: Looking at 2011, What are the key
flashpoints in Washington for smaller cable
Matt Polka: Post-Comcast-NBCU, assuming
the deal is approved in the January/
February time frame, as we believe it will
be, our job will be to ensure the conditions
are implemented and obeyed. We will obviously
need to see the details of the merger
order before we know exactly what we will
be doing. But we do expect there will be
conditions on access to video and pricing,
and monitoring it through the arbitration
process on the regional sports, ownedand-
operated [stations] and national cableprogramming
fronts. We will be looking to
ensure those are properly enforced.
Second, there has been speculation about
whether or not there might be a rewrite [of
the Telecommunications Act] in the new
Congress. I think it’s fair to say there might
be the start of a new rewrite, including hearings
and roundtables, and we will certainly
be involved in that. Members understand
that the 1996 Act, even though it did a good
job at the time, was insufficient as it relates to
broadband. With so much happening from
a broadband perspective, there is that need.
We have made the case for rewriting some of
the broadcast-carriage provisions.
MCN: What else is on your docket?
MP: Online privacy is one of the big issues
on the horizon. We have seen a lot recently
about do-not-track, which has a lot of bipartisan
appeal and certainly has an impact
on our members’ reporting requirements
and operational requirements.
MCN: There seems to be movement at the
Federal Communications Commission on
MP: The fact that the FCC is going to be putting
out a rulemaking, there’s a likelihood that there will be other major disputes, given
that 2011 is the end of a current retrans cycle.
I would be thrilled if Congress did more
than hold hearings and actually moved forward
with some bills or ideas about how to
revise retrans, notwithstanding what the
FCC might be doing.
MCN: Are you concerned that Sen. John
Kerry (D-Mass.) has said he won’t go
forward with his legislation, given the FCC’s
announcement it will issue a rulemaking
on retrans ?
MP: That is understandable. It is a typical
reaction of Congress to let the expert agency
do its work.
Congress typically does not get involved
in a matter unless it feels there is a crisis that
needs to be dealt with, and consensus. Right now, the consensus is that there is a crisis,
but the FCC should take a crack at trying to
resolve this. And that is fair.
I also think, that if there are more major
disputes that take place in the market,
you might see that view of Senator Kerry
and others accelerated based on how severe
such disputes are or on the behavior or
the rates over the course of the year. Sen. Jay
Rockefeller [D-W.Va.], in a letter about the
Comcast-NBCU merger, talked about rising
retail rates to consumers. I think that is a legitimate
issue that is tied to retrans as well.
So, if we see major price increases, it would
not surprise me to see Congress want to take
another, deeper look at it, and we certainly
would welcome that.
MCN: How will the network-neutrality issue
play out in 2011?
MP: We are very pleased with the settlement
that took Title II off the table, which
for us was huge, because of the imposition
of regulation that would have been crushing.
It also allows for experimentation by
our members on usage-based billing. That
is fundamental for independent operators
as they look at the broadband plan. We
need to see the details and we need to see
what Congress does in reaction.
MCN: Will monitoring the Comcast-NBCU
conditions be a big deal?
MP: We are going to make sure that any
conditions that are implemented are
obeyed. We will be working closely with
the FCC and members with conditions that
apply to regional sports, retransmission
consent on owned and operated stations
as well as national programming and other
conditions to be sure they are followed.