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Cable Chief Is Not Taking it Personally

Speculation is circulating that the chairman of the FCC has it out for the cable industry. It's been reported the Kevin Martin is circulating proposals to expand must-carry for broadcasters, and to limit the reach of a single cable operator to 30 percent of pay TV subscribers. He's long pushed for a la carte cable pricing as a way to get cable to clean up its language.

When asked about Martin's apparent zeal, cable lobby chief Kyle McSlarrow in a press conference March 15 demurred, sort of.

"Lots of members of Congress have been asking that for the past year," he said. "I'm not interested in personalizing it."

The president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunication Association then proceeded to relate his bafflement at the FCC's treatment of his industry.

"What is the vision that we can expect to get from the FCC going forward, given the incredibly dynamic marketplace? In two years I've been on job, it's exploding... we're approaching, this spring, 10 million new phone customers. That is an amazing story. This is the first time we've had real facilities-based competition. That's an amazing thing I would expect the FCC to take note of... I would expect a vision that tells us how to keep that story going, but what I'm seeing is regulatory retreads, like must-carry, a al carte..."

McSlarrow said there's nothing in the market to justify an ownership cap.

"When we're looking at regulating the cable industry when the entire cable industry is smaller than AT&T, that's ridiculous... the record before the commission and the marketplace does not justify any form of cap," he said.

As for the retransmission consent debate, the NCTA has stayed out of it until now because it has members on both sides of the issue, but McSlarrow said the lobby "plans to be engaged."

He said that retransmission consent had often been mischaracterized as a "free-market issue."

"You start first with spectrum and a platform that was provided for free for broadcasters. Then you say, the content is provided on an exclusive basis, with network nonduplication and syndex rules," he said. "Then the law says, there's a choice between simply asking for carriage or retransmission consent. It's a heads I win, tails you lose, regime. When they walk into a negotiation... their carriage is by law guaranteed on the basic tier, and consumers have to buy the basic tier before they buy any other tier. So when it's referred to as a free market negotiation, they're forgetting about this regulatory regime that's already in place."