WASHINGTON--Telephone companies and direct-broadcast
satellite providers said the Federal Communications Commission needs to be more vigilant
in enforcing the program access laws, according to comments filed recently with the
"(Ameritech) continues to experience difficulty in
obtaining quality programming," wrote Ameritech New Media Inc. on July 31. Several
companies filed comments with the FCC in preparation for the agency's annual
assessment of competition in the multichannel video industry.
To level the playing field, Ameritech said the agency
should streamline its process for responding to program access complaints and recommend to
Congress that rules governing access be broadened.
Under current law, most cable companies that own networks
are required to sell programming to any company that wants it. But Ameritech and other
companies have complained that many networks not covered by the rule are entering into
exclusive contracts with incumbent cable companies, blocking them from offering popular
programming, such as ESPN's Classic Sports Network.
Echoing Ameritech's complaints, DirecTv Inc. said that
in Philadelphia, Comcast has used a loophole in the access laws to get around selling
programming to DBS providers. By transmitting through terrestrial means, instead of by
satellite, Comcast is not bound by the current law.
DirecTv advocated that the FCC reprimand Comcast, saying
other cable operators might follow the company's example.
For their part, cable companies reasserted their argument
that the multichannel video market has become progressively more competitive.
Despite lawmakers' complaints that rising cable rates
are evidence of inadequate competition, the National Cable Television Association said
critics do not take into account the investments companies are making in new programming
and improved infrastructures.
The NCTA also pointed out that cable's competitors
serve more than 12 million subscribers, or 15 percent of the market. That amounts to a 300
percent increase over the last five years.
Along with competition from DBS providers, Cox
Communications Inc. said its systems face the challenge of telephone company overbuilding
in Connecticut; Cleveland, Ohio; Omaha, Neb.; and Phoenix.
MediaOne Group Inc., owner of the third largest cable
company, also wrote that it is facing increased competition in each of its 17 states.
Plus, the company said it has invested a significant amount of money in upgrading its
network and obtaining programming.
States News Service