Cable: Nationwide 30 Percent Ownership Cap Won’t Stand

December 21, 2007
The FCC’s Tuesday meeting will provide work for Washington’s telecommunications lawyers for some time.

As the commission invited Congressional and legal action over its move to relax newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership restrictions, it also took yet another action to tighten rules governing the cable industry. This time, the FCC ordered that no single operator can serve more than 30 percent of the nation’s cable viewers.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association quickly noted that the courts have already spoken.

“The Court of Appeals found such a cap to be unjustified and out of touch with the competitive marketplace as it existed six years ago,” said NCTA boss Kyle McSlarrow in a statement. “In the intervening years, competition among satellite, telephone and cable companies and the variety and amount of independent programming has only increased. We are confident that a court will again reject conclusions driven by a political agenda to target the cable industry that are completely at odds with the realities of a dynamic and competitive marketplace that is providing greater consumer choice and value.”

If the restriction were to stand, Comcast, with about 27 percent of the nation’s cable subs, would be the most affected should it seek to acquire other systems.

Cable has been something of a target for FCC Chairman Martin in the past year. FCC actions have included a must-carry order for local analog and HD broadcasts; an order striking down exclusive deals between cable operators and apartment buildings; revision of the rules that enable outside programmers to lease access on cable channels, and a refusal to grant broad waivers to the July ban on new integrated set-top boxes that don’t have separable security modules. More recently, Martin was thwarted in his effort to bring new restrictions on the industry based on a nationwide penetration test (the “70/70” finding).

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