Washington -- The cable industry is planning to fight
extension in 2002 of the programming law that was key to the launch of the
direct-broadcast satellite industry, National Cable Television Association president
Robert Sachs said last Tuesday.
The law -- passed in 1992 along with cable-rate-regulation
provisions -- expires after 10 years unless the Federal Communications Commission approves
"I don't think the same case can be made in 2002 as
was made in 1992, so we would oppose efforts to extend the program-access
requirements," Sachs said in a year-end meeting with reporters at NCTA headquarters
With the sunset still fairly remote, the FCC has not opened
a rulemaking on the issue. "I am guessing we will see more activity on that issue in
the 2001-2002 time frame," Sachs said.
The law bans a cable operator from withholding
satellite-delivered programming that it owns from multichannel-video competitors like DBS,
which owns virtually none of its own programming. Sachs said the law and FCC rules are
unnecessary because the rationale for creating them had disappeared.
"Those were crafted at a time when there was a concern
that new and independent programmers would be unable to gain carriage, and there literally
have been a couple of hundred of new networks since that time, and there have been a
handful of program-access complaints over the years," Sachs said.
Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of the House
Telecommunications Subcommittee, fought to include the program-access requirement in the
1992 law over the objections of many and at a time when few realized how vital cable
programming was to DBS.
"Tauzin continues to support program access. With
cable still a virtual monopoly in many markets across America, program access remains
vital to competition," Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson said.
Bob Marsocci, spokesman for DirecTV Inc. -- the leading DBS
provider, with 7.8 million subscribers -- said the program-access rules should be
"Program access continues to play a key role in
ensuring that cable operators don't use their market power to prevent consumers from
receiving the widest array of programming possible," Marsocci said.
The law allows independent networks to sign exclusive deals
with cable operators and allows cable operators to withhold networks they own if the means
of distribution isn't satellite -- loopholes Congress and the FCC should close, Marsocci
said. "If anything, the program-access rules need to be tightened," he added.
When DirecTV complains about gaps in current law, the cable
industry often points out that DirecTV has a deal with the National Football League, which
means cable can't televise every Sunday football game.
During the one-hour session with reporters, Sachs commented
on a number of issues the cable industry will face on Capitol Hill and at the FCC over the
next 12 months.
On a separate satellite issue, Sachs said the NCTA would
not support legislation giving federal loan guarantees to subsidize the provision of local
TV signals by satellite carriers in competition with small cable operators. House and
Senate lawmakers have agreed to vote on such a proposal by April 1.
"We question whether General Motors [Corp., owner of
DirecTV] and EchoStar [Communications Corp.] are in need of government subsidies," he
On Internet open-access legislation, Sachs predicted that
Congress would hold more hearings, but not force access requirements on cable. "We
don't foresee or anticipate that any legislation will be enacted this session on
forced access," he said.
On a compulsory TV license for America Online Inc., Sachs
said protecting the copyright interests of NCTA members would be paramount. "We will
certainly be supportive of our companies that have concerns in that regard," he said.
In other developments, the NCTA said cable operators will
end the year:
With 68.5 million subscribers, or 85 percent of the
pay television market.
With $36.9 billion in revenue.
With 5.1 million digital-TV subscribers, or 30
percent of the 17 million subscribers who take digital services from DBS and cable.
With 1.5 million cable-modem subscribers, or about 3
percent of the Internet-access market.
With 230,000 local telephone subscribers.