FCC takes heat over plans to regulate cable

A group of top media executives wants the FCC to keep its regulatory hands off cable television.

Robert Iger, president/CEO of Walt Disney; Peter Chernin, president/CEO of News Corp.; Philippe Dauman, CEO of Viacom; and Jeff Zucker, president/CEO of NBC Universal, told the FCC in a joint letter there is “no conceivable justification of government intervention” in the cable television industry. The executives said there was already “vibrant competition” for programming and distribution and “myriad options and alternatives” available to cable subscribers.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin is attempting to use recent data to show that cable is now available to 70 percent of the nation’s homes. Under current law, such a benchmark could allow the commission to regulate the industry. Martin is already moving to cut the rates and ease access to those wanting to lease cable channels.

Martin is also finding it hard to find support among the other commissioners themselves, who feel the chairman might be rushing things. Democrat Jonathon Adelstein has joined with Republican opponents on the commission to postpone the vote, which will be held Tuesday, November 27. The report as proposed by Martin would give the FCC increased leverage to tighten its grip on how the cable industry offers its programming to consumers.

Prior to the holiday, Kyle McSlarrow, president/CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, accused Martin of promoting an anti-cable agenda in an effort to get cable to voluntarily offer á la carte programming, although the agency has no authority to require cable companies to do so.

The issue has created a firestorm. A majority of Republicans on the House Energy & Commerce Committee have warned that additional regulation of cable is unwarranted. Minority groups are alarmed that any new FCC rules could force minority programming and channels off cable systems.

“We are alarmed at recent press accounts and public statements by FCC officials purporting to find undue concentrations of market power that would justify a wide range of government interventions into the media marketplace where we compete every day,” the media executives wrote.

“To be sure, there was a time when American consumers who wished to enjoy subscription TV had few if any alternatives to their local cable system. This is no longer the case for the vast majority of U.S. consumers.”