Friedman's upbeat forecast kicked off ACA's 17th Annual Washington Summit, the leading educational conference for small, independent cable operators seeking to interact with regulatory officials and Capitol Hill lawmakers as well as discuss the unique challenges of providing the most advanced communications services in rural America.
The Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice are reviewing Comcast-NBCU's $30 billion transaction, the most significant media merger in a decade that has broad implications for the business operations of small cable providers.
Many ACA members will compete head-to-head with Comcast-NBCU for cable and broadband subscribers while nearly all ACA members will need to acquire cable, broadcast and online content services from this new media giant on fair and reasonable terms.
"Without reasonable regulatory constraints, this integration of NBCU with the programming arm of Comcast is a threat to consumers and competition, leading to higher programming costs. Moreover, the combination of NBC with Comcast's cable plants will ignite expensive fights over access to broadcast and cable content and reduce the ability of pay-TV rivals to compete against Comcast both in traditional markets and online," Friedman explained.
Friedman, who is Chief Operating Officer of Wave Broadband in Kirkland, Washington, took on the issue retransmission consent directly by hitting broadcasters hard for exploiting regulatory advantages and engaging in bad-faith bargaining to extract unfair and discriminatory cash payments from small cable distributors.
"If the FCC changes the retransmission consent rules, the broadcasters will have only themselves to blame, because time after time broadcasters have been so very greedy and anti-consumer in their demands," Friedman said. "After Disney yanked its ABC signal from 3 million cable customers in New York just hours before the Academy Awards, the world changed: Retransmission consent reform went from being an option to a necessity."
In March, ACA joined a new coalition that is asking the FCC to overhaul retransmission consent rules for the first time since 1992. As the process at the FCC unfolds, ACA will seek rules that will prevent broadcasters from engaging in price discrimination that drives up the cost of broadcast content for consumers served by ACA members.
"Make no mistake about it: For too many years, ACA was all alone in advocating for retransmission consent reform. The newly formed coalition will surely benefit from the field we've plowed and the record we've built highlighting the regulatory advantages that broadcasters shamelessly exploit to gouge our customers under the false banner of the free market," Friedman said.
ACA will also urge the FCC to stop broadcasters from jointly negotiating retransmission consent for more than one station in a market, which is clearly anticompetitive and artificially drives up costs for operators and consumers, Friedman noted.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told the Senate Commerce Committee in March that he is concerned that retransmission consent rules are harming consumers who lose access to broadcast programming with little, if any, warning.
Later, he told the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas that retransmission consent is leading to higher cable bills.
Friedman provided his full perspective on retransmission consent reform in a Seattle Times Op-Ed on Feb. 21, which is available here: Will Someone Please 'Fix' The Market For Small Cable Customers? (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2011132689_guest22friedman...)
"Big battles lie ahead and I'm confident that ACA is prepared for each one. Through careful analysis and planning, ACA has made a conscious effort to set aside sufficient resources that will allow us to meet each challenge head-on at a reasonable cost," Friedman said.
ACA's Chairman also said the trade group is pushing for the right of small cable providers to purchase reasonably priced HD set-top boxes, which will speed the conversion to digital networks and free up spectrum for broadband. ACA is also fighting to reform the pole attachment rules to ensure that ACA members are not unfairly charged to access poles.
ACA Summit 2010 concluded April 21 at the Gaylord Hotel in National Harbor, Md., a major visitor destination convenient to downtown Washington, D.C.
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