8/1/11

FCC Moves to Give Viewers Choice and Provide More Competition on Cable Systems

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has adopted rules designed to halt cable system operators from retaliating against independent channels when there are business disputes or discriminating against them in favor of ones in which they ownership stakes.

The rules are intended to ensure that the monopoly power of cable operators is not used to deny viewer choice or harm competition channel providers.

One rule is designed to prohibit systems from dropping channels when there are business disputes with systems that have been taken to the commission for resolution.

Another rule is designed to create a more level playing field for independent channels by making it possible for them to reach more viewers. Comcast Corp., for example, has been accused in recent years of forcing competitors’ sports channels into premium packages that fewer viewers select.

Given that price rises for cable services have far outstripped inflation rates in recent years, that service providers create bundles of channels that primarily serve their benefits rather customers, and that consumers continually express dissatisfaction with choices, prices, and customer service provided, it is not surprising that the commission decided to act to slightly limit the power of the major players.

The big cable players are livid about the rules, of course, and can be expected to be highly active in the next regulatory stage seeking comments on how to implement the rules.

At this point they and they supporters are complaining that keeping channels on the air while dispute resolution is underway is somehow unfair to them. The system operators, of course, refuse to recognize how it is particularly unfair to customers who have no way to influence the decision.

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