The Federal Communications Commission's effort to compile an annual cable-competition report for Congress has become something of a can't-miss forum for grumbling about cable companies without having to file a formal complaint.
Many of the accusations were not new and some — particularly related to program-access modifications — have been addressed by the FCC, in cable operators' favor.
A prime example was provided by RCN Corp., the overbuilder whose voice, video and data bundle has attracted 1.1 million "service connections" in markets ruled by Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable, and Cablevision Systems Corp.
In FCC comments filed Sept. 11, RCN said cable incumbents use their market power to erect market barriers. Handing up a multi-count indictment against Comcast, RCN accused the No.1 MSO of engaging in predatory pricing in Philadelphia, withholding New England Cable News in Boston and damaging RCN lines to cause service interruptions to 20 of the overbuilder's customers.
"Although Comcast has indicated that the line cuts were inadvertent, the frequency of the cuts and other evidence indicate otherwise," RCN told the FCC.
A Comcast spokesman said the company would address RCN's complaints in reply comments due at the FCC on Sept. 26. Regarding the line-cutting charge, Comcast has elsewhere called it "unwarranted and completely false."
RCN wants cable operators to be required to sell it programming that is terrestrially delivered and thus not covered by FCC program-access rules. NECN falls into that category.
RCN also urged the FCC to ask Congress to broaden program-access requirements to include cable networks not owned by cable companies.
The FCC has repeatedly declined to extend program-access rules to include terrestrially delivered networks owned by cable companies. The FCC has said the rules apply to satellite-delivered networks owned by MSOs. The agency has also made no recommendation to Congress that broadcaster-affiliated programming should be denied exclusivity terms with cable operators.
The Broadband Service Providers Association — which includes overbuilders Altrio Communications, Everest Connections, Gemini Networks, and WideOpenWest — pointed to a few exclusive programming deals as evidence that MSOs were competing unfairly. The BSPA said Charter had an exclusive deal for The Walt Disney Co.'s SoapNet in certain parts of Los Angeles, and Mediacom Communications had a similar deal with RFD-TV in all its markets through December 2003.
The BSPA also voiced concern about unfair price discounts, citing "one Midwest cable incumbent" that offered expanded basic for $5 a month for one year.
"Rather than rate regulation, the solution to this problem is full and fair disclosure of all rates offered within a local franchise area so that all … can take advantage of the offers and monitor the equity of the rate availability," the BSPA said.