Phoenix – Small independent cable operators are facing one of their most trying times in terms of federal regulation, their chief lobbying group told them Tuesday.
“There are so many issues that are affecting independent cable, it is perhaps -- right now -- the most critical time in our industry’s history with so many serous issues compressed in a 12-month period between February of this year and February 2009,” Matt Polka, president of the American Cable Association, said during the National Cable Television Cooperative’s Winter Educational Conference.
Polka made his remarks during a session entitled “ACA and the ’08 Firestorm.” At the panel, Polka and his staff updated small operators on his group’s efforts to get the Federal Communications Commission to address retransmission consent and the wholesale pricing and bundling practices of major programmers.
“It may not actually be a firestorm, it just feels that way,” Polka said. “Regulations, particularly from the FCC, disproportionately impact your systems and affect your ability to provide advanced services to your customers.”
The ACA has lobbied for a blanket exemption for small operators from federally mandated dual must-carry, the regulation that cable systems will have to carry the analog and digital signals of must-carry TV stations.
The possibility of having to carry both signals is making small operators look long and hard at technology to increase their plant capacity, a fact that Polka alluded to.
“I am always amazed when I come to an event like this that is technology-focused, how each and every one of the technology issues that we discuss have a clear regulatory or policy aspect to them,” he said. “We cannot be successful on that technology front if we are not applying the same types of resources on the policy front.”
The ACA also described how it had filed papers asking the FCC to take measures to force programmers to offer their networks on a standalone basis -- so-called wholesale a la carte -- not just bundled together so cable systems are forced to take channels they don’t want.
A number of major media companies, like The Walt Disney Co., have made their own FCC filings in rebuttal to the ACA, claiming they already offer their networks on a standalone basis.
Following the NCTC session, Polka issued a prepared statement.
“Without stability or security, ACA’s members will not be able to provide essential services to their customers,” he said. “The small and rural communities independent cable operators serve today are the ones that will suffer tomorrow.”
During the session, ACA lawyer Chris Cinnamon said small operators are being discriminated against in terms of retransmission consent, having to pay fees to carry TV stations that are four to 20 times those charged to larger cable companies.