NCTA says FCC should not expand program access rules

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), representing most U.S. cable operators, told the FCC this week that this is not the time to impose new regulations on the video programming marketplace.

"The commission's proposals to encourage and facilitate the filing of more complaints and to expand the scope of the discrimination provisions of the rules are wholly unwarranted and at odds with the statute," said the NCTA in comments on the FCC's proposed changes to the rules.

Michael Powell, a former Republican chairman of the FCC during the Bush administration, leads the NCTA.

The NCTA termed the commission's expansion of discovery rights "fishing expeditions" that would be unlikely to lead to more meritorious complaints. The group also challenged the proposal of authorizing damages, which it said could give programmers undue leverage in negotiations.

The NCTA said that mandatory carriage of programming a cable operator does not want to carry has serious First Amendment problems. The group said they were not sure such a remedy is ever justified, but never should be before the FCC has affirmed a bureau or administrative law judge decision.

They rejected a proposal to require pay operators to negotiate in good faith with any network similarly situated to their own owned networks. "The harms that Congress feared when it enacted the program carriage provisions of the Act were based on marketplace characteristics that have disappeared," said the group.

"While the proposed rules may make it easier and provide new incentives to file program carriage complaints, there is no reason to think that the result will be more meritorious complaints ... There is, in short, no basis in policy or law for these efforts, and they should be abandoned."