Cable operators should be able to require the purchase of an interactive "digital gateway" to subscribers who just want the basic tier and premium services, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said Friday.
The NCTA was coming to the defense of Cox Communications Inc., which is taking heat in a few Connecticut towns for charging $3.95 for the digital gateway.
Under a Federal Communications Commission rule known as the tier-buy-through prohibition, cable customers that want just basic and one premium channel, such as Home Box Office, cannot be forced to buy expanded basic in order to get HBO. Cable operators deemed subject to effective competition are exempt from the rule.
Local regulators in Enfield, Conn., and neighboring jurisdictions have complained to the FCC that Cox is violating the rule by requiring the purchase of the digital gateway to the basic-premium-only cohort.
The NCTA said that because the digital gateway is not a tier of programming within the meaning of federal law, Cox is complying with the rule and the 10 Connecticut towns making a fuss about it are wrong.
"This case is not a tier buy-through case. Cox's `digital-gateway' charge is not a tier within the intent and meaning of the tier-buy-through prohibition," the cable trade group added.
The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors -- members of which are largely local cable regulators -- claimed that Cox was violating the rule because the digital gateway is a tier and the law did not specify that the tier must include video programming.
"Endorsing the Cox digital-gateway charge would create another barrier to customers in gaining access to programming on an a la carte basis," NATOA said.