Group Calls for Broad Cable Reregulation - Multichannel

Group Calls for Broad Cable Reregulation

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A public-interest group Tuesday called for sweeping reregulation of the
cable-television industry in light of steadily rising monthly bills,
insufficient competition from satellite companies and the inability of consumers
to pick channels individually.

The call for an end to the era of deregulation that the 70 million-subscriber
cable industry has enjoyed at least since 1999 was promoted in a long study
released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit organization
that specializes in consumer, election and communications policy.

In the 90-page study, U.S. PIRG advocated support for numerous new cable
policies from Congress, such as:

• Allowing state public utility commissions to set the price of all cable
rates;

• Forcing cable operators to sell every channel a la carte, "at fair,
reasonable and nondiscriminatory prices."

• Overhauling leased-access rules so programmers can rent channels from cable
operators at reasonable prices.

• Requiring cable companies with at least 4% of cable subscribers nationally
to seat on their corporate boards a "public member representing
subscribers."

• Requiring cable companies to create, fund and promote an "Audience Channel"
that serves as a platform to organize consumers "into a mobilized interest group
to advocate for pro-consumer and pro-democracy media policy."

• Prohibiting cable companies from restricting consumer access to "Internet
content based on the source or nature of the consumer's request."

The study concluded that government intervention was necessary because
satellite is failing to keep cable rates near the inflation level and because
cable customers are forced to purchase packages of programming on a
take-it-or-leave-it basis instead of having a la carte
options.

"The wild and unfounded claims of these Washington-based advocacy groups are recycled arguments that fell out of favor a decade ago," National Cable & Telecommunications Association senior vice president of communications and public affairs Rob Stoddard said in a prepared statement.

"The broadband renaissance, and the marketplace competition it has spawned, has brought unprecedented choice and value to tens of millions of Americans," he added. "Cable's investment of more than $75 billion in upgrades and rebuilds has facilitated the transmission of more than 300 nationally delivered video networks and popular consumer services such as high-speed Internet access, video-on-demand, high-definition television and competitive local telephone service."

Stoddard continued, "If these self-appointed consumer representatives had their way, the majority of this investment and innovation would have been stifled from the start."

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