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ACA's Polka Urges Members To Stay Engaged As Cable Act Overhaul Looms

American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said in a July 23 speech that the independent cable community needed to train its focus on Capitol Hill as lawmakers begin a likely two-year effort to overhaul key provisions of the 1992 Cable Act -- including retransmission consent and program access - to ensure bedrock communications law reflects current market conditions instead of a virtually unrecognizable pre-Internet media landscape.

"We have a real opportunity ahead for positive policy outcomes that we've sought for twenty years," Polka said. "It's vital that we continue to educate policymakers that ACA Members are based in their local communities, that they want fair rules for their customers, and that they are building the most advanced broadband networks that connect hometown America to the rest of the globe."

Polka's comments came during an address to hundreds of ACA Members attending the 7th Independent Show, a key industry forum that is co-hosted and organized annually by ACA and the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC), a Lenexa, Kansas-based group that purchases programming and equipment for U.S. cable operators. Held in Lake Buena Vista, Fl., the event drew more than 1,300 attendees.

Polka also spoke one day ahead of ACA Chairwoman Colleen Abdoulah's appearance in Washington, D.C., to testify before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, a panel that is exploring the future of online video and ways to reform the 1992 Cable Act. Polka's speech was a pre-recorded video because he and Abdoulah needed to be in Washington, D.C., to prepare for the Senate hearing.

In the speech, Polka outlined ACA's mission and strategy in preparation for legislative activity on Capitol Hill that could require two years of active engagement by ACA Members to help lawmakers reach a consensus. Over that time, Polka said ACA would continue to strive:

  • To be the recognized voice of independent cable operators, who deliver advanced broadband services in smaller and rural markets across America;
  • To promote a favorable legislative and regulatory environment for its members; and
  • To support its members, their communities and their customers by promoting a fair and competitive marketplace and providing the tools and information ACA's members need to compete effectively every day.

In reviewing regulatory achievements from the past year, Polka turned to FCC implementation of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, the law designed to prevent annoying spikes in volume when commercials interrupt regular TV programming, and FCC extension of the small operator exemption from carrying must carry TV stations in native High Definition format.

Regarding the CALM Act, Polka noted the new law was a real challenge because rather that insert their own digital commercials, ACA Members to a large extent merely pass through ads inserted by broadcasters and national cable networks. ACA stressed that it would be inappropriate to hold ACA Members accountable for the actions of deep-pocketed media corporations.

"In the end, ACA came out ahead in the implementation of the CALM Act because we were able to avoid the imposition of costly regulatory burdens, and we protected the interests of ACA Members in a manner consistent with the legitimate needs of TV viewers and the intent of Congress," Polka said.

On the HD exemption, the FCC agreed last month to allow small cable operators to convert the signals of must carry TV signals from HD to either standard definition or analog format for an additional three years. The FCC also agreed to make the HD exemption permanent for analog-only cable systems.

The FCC's action was significant because the absence of an HD exemption would have placed significant financial burdens on many ACA Members that have systems with less than 553 MHz of capacity or fewer than 2,501 subscribers and not affiliated with large cable operators.

"I think it's clear that the FCC made the right call here and that ACA's effort paid dividends for many ACA Members," Polka said. "Importantly, the FCC rejected the National Association of Broadcasters' request to withhold the HD exemption from cable systems that are transmitting one or more signals in HD."

Looking ahead, ACA will continue to urge the FCC to prevent competing and separately owned TV stations located in the same market from coordinating their retransmission consent negotiations with ACA Members. ACA has documented a 28% rise in coordinated retransmission consent negotiating by broadcasters, totaling 46 TV station combinations in 41 markets where stations are using a single negotiating representative.

"Broadcasters' intent is clear: Use collusion to gain overwhelming bargaining leverage over ACA Members and price-gouge pay-TV customers," Polka said, adding that this kind of broadcaster conduct should be viewed, where appropriate, as a violation of the agency's TV duopoly rule, which bans the ownership of more than one top-4 station in a market.

"The lesson I draw from the past year is this:  Let's stay focused and engaged, and never let others tell our story," Polka said. "It would not surprise me if our opponents eventually over play their hand in an effort to cling to outdated government-granted advantages used to mistreat consumers. In the end, I am confident that right makes might," Polka said.

 

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