Black Caucus Seeks Meeting With MSOs

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Several cable MSO executives plan to visit Washington, D.C., this week to meet with representatives from the Congressional Black Caucus in an effort to alleviate concerns that the industry hasn't done enough to foster minority ownership within cable-system and programming ranks, sources said last week.

While it's unclear which MSO or programming executives would attend, sources said the 39-member CBC is prepared to take action if it doesn't like what it hears from cable industry leaders.

An National Cable & Telecommunications Association representative confirmed plans for a March 12 meeting, but could provide no other details. MSO representatives could not be reached for comment at press time.

The March 12 meeting arises from a letter drafted in January by the caucus that was addressed to several industry executives, including National Cable & Telecommunications Association CEO Robert Sachs, AOL Time Warner Inc. CEO Richard Parsons, Cox Communications Inc. CEO James Robbins and Charter Communications Inc. CEO Carl Vogel.

Though the letter was never mailed, cable-industry lobbyists were apprised of the nature of the correspondence and set up a meeting with the caucus, according to sources close to the situation.

Spearheaded by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California), the letter expresses the CBC's disappointment in the "limited offerings in African-American programming relative to the diversity of African-American culture," as well as the decrease in African-American ownership of cable properties, which has "never significantly expanded beyond the ownership of one major cable channel."

The last reference was to Black Entertainment Television, which Viacom Inc. bought in 2001.

"The issue is really in regard to owning the distribution pipeline," a source close to the situation said. "Getting an extra show on Showtime is not going to do it.

"This meeting will be very telling meeting and will determine how the caucus proceeds from there," the same source said. "It could be a productive meeting, or it could be one where people are drafting legislation and dropping it the next day and getting people on the other side of the aisle to join them."

Center for Digital Democracy executive director Jeffrey Chester — which has approached members of the CBC and other members of Congress about this issue — said the CBC's involvement could be a wake-up call.

"The cable industry has an embarrassingly poor track record when in comes to assuring that the public has meaningful programming choice, including channels and services owned and controlled by persons of colors and African-Americans and particular," said Chester. "The cable industry's strategy to control additional channels both locally and nationally that prevent meaningful competition and diversity requires congressional intervention."

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