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Cable Technology Feature Article

July 06, 2012

Congress Won't Revisit the Cable Act During the Current Legislative Session

By Jacqueline Lee, Contributing Writer

Cable’s share of the pay-TV market has dropped to 60 percent from 90 percent just a few years ago. Netflix, satellite and fiber optic services from Verizon and AT&T (News - Alert) have been eroding cable market share since The Cable Act first passed in 1992.

Many Republican congressmen want to revisit the Cable Act to change the 20-year-old regulations that no longer fit today’s more varied marketplace. However, according to Texas Republican Joe Barton, the bill won’t be taken up during this congressional session.

In December, two Republican senators, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, introduced the Next Generation Television Marketplace Act. The act would have repealed all laws mandating that cable carry local broadcast signals. The act would also have repealed the retransmission consent and compulsory license provisions from the 1996 Communications Act.

Companies like DirecTV (News - Alert) cheered the bill when it first came out. “This legislation would eliminate byzantine regulations that shackle innovation, competition and consumer choice,” DirecTV said in a prepared statement.

Organizations like the National Association of Broadcasters, whose members rely on retransmission consent fees to offset declining advertising revenue, opposed the bill. So does Rocco Commisso, the chairman of Mediacom.

“I am deeply disappointed with the Commission’s lack of interest in keeping multichannel television service affordable,” Commisso wrote last September.  “Twice in the past five years, I have tried to stand up for consumers by resisting exorbitant demands for retransmission consent fees. And twice the Commission put the interests of broadcasters ahead of those of the viewing public.”

Commisso wants cable companies to create a la carte pricing that would allow customers to choose individual channels rather than buy bundled packages. Unbundling the packages would also allow cable companies to be selective about what they pay to retransmit.

Additionally, Commisso wants to see content providers be forced to disclose the amount that they charge cable provides for their programming.

Despite the frustration on both sides surrounding cable TV reform, Congress will not be debating the Cable Act during this legislative session. “I hope in the next Congress we take this up,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. “In general I think we’re better off having less regulation, and more enterprise and more market competition.”

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Edited by Rich Steeves

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