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ACA Hears from Lawmakers as Consumers

WASHINGTON— The 2013 ACA Summit in Washington, D.C. marked the American Cable Association’s 20th anniversary, kicking off the event with a formal dinner Tuesday evening where keynote speaker Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) championed the organization’s history of advocating for independent cable operators.

Wednesday, ACA members heard from the association’s leadership, congress members friendly to their cause and FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai in preparation for lobbying Capitol Hill on Thursday. The day’s speeches reminded attendees that lawmakers are also consumers and thus aware of the issues cable customers care about, with references to cable costs and the desire to watch a favorite sport.

As expected, retransmission consent was a major theme. FCC (and congressional) reforms and the re-visitation of the 1992 Cable Act were also repeatedly considered in light of challenges facing small-to-medium cable operators. The overarching theme of the day was fairness.

ACA President and CEO Matt Polka opened the day’s sessions, reminding attendees of the event’s purpose, as well as the progress they had made in two decades, before introducing Colleen Abdoulah, chair of the ACA and CEO of WOW!

Abdoulah opened her remarks by recognizing the ongoing debate about violence and the media in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting, citing ACA’s belief that education about ways to monitor and control children’s viewing habits is part of the solution. She went on to reference what she called the problem of broadcasters “coordinating” their retransmission bargaining, saying that this should more accurately be deemed “collusion” and emphasizing the problems that this practice creates. Sports programming was another of her themes. She said Congress and the FCC should take on the referee role and “call a timeout” to stop the precipitous rise in this sector’s costs.

Following Abdoulah’s comments, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) of the Senate Commerce Committee next gave an update on the session’s agenda. He emphasized bipartisanship, a theme echoed by Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) in his afternoon address to the ACA. Heller cited must-carry and communications reform as priorities for the Commerce Committee, calling the ’92 Cable Act and the ’96 Telecommunications rewrite and other regulations outdated “because in an IP world, everything is interconnected.”

Pai then took the stage for a Q&A session, admitting that the year since he took on his new position has added to his gray hair. He expressed support for reforming the commission, adding enforced timelines and new expectations for its priorities. Pai also said that he believed that it would be reasonable to implement “reasonable data caps” and pay-per-use rates because it is already a widely accepted business model.

In the afternoon, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told ACA members that the technological advances since 1992 are one of many reasons why the Cable Act must be revamped. “To try to keep the playing field balanced is something that we can do,” Blunt said, citing his belief that the government should not subsidize competition with small cable operators by funding the big broadcasters’ expansion into markets already served by ACA members.