Sunday, November 11, 2007

FCC trying to fine-tune behavior of large cable networks, to increase competition and expand unaffiliated programming

On Saturday, Nov. 10, The New York Times ran a story (on p A1) by Stephen Labaton, “F.C.C, Set to Issue Rules to Opening Cable Market,” link here.

A related story appeared Monday Nov. 12 in The Washington Post, p A07, by Frank Ahrens, "FCC Moves to Place Restrictions on Cable TV: Companies Push Back Against Plan to Cap Ownership, Reduce Costs for Programmers," here.

In a general way, the FCC is said to be moving in a direction counter to the usual Bush practice of deregulation. The FCC will assume new administrative law powers over cable companies that become too big and have sufficient penetration in given markets (the “70/70 rule”), and may be able to prevent acquisitions and force them to work with unaffiliated companies that offer specialized programming.

This cuts both ways. We don’t like to see the government preventing ownership alliances (like movie distribution and movie theaters) in some cases, because intervention could hamper efforts of independent artists to get their work distributed. In other cases, though, intervention might seem necessary to prevent media companies from squashing competition for consumers. (This sounds like the “Chinese Wall” concept, which supports the idea of separation of functions among separately owned entities to prevent one entity from having unfair influence in proportion to its means.) Generally, with an open Internet and worldwide audience for individual speakers, it is much harder to predict what the effect of regulation will be in practice, which is why the network neutrality debate is so difficult in practice to unravel.

In the Washington DC area, there has been controversy because Comcast has not yet seen fit to offer programming from the Logo (GLBT) network, although much Logo programming (such as the Democratic candidate debates) has been available over high speed Internet directly (or DirectTV).

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