Bishops Push for Leased Access Review


Catholic bishops are taking the FCC to task for what they say is the FCC's "neglect" of its oversigh role, which they argue has negativel impacted program diversity.

In comments filed at the FCC, the Bishops, along with the Center for Digital Democracy and the Benton Foundation, argue that current FCC leased-access rules setting aside 10%-15% of cable channels for unaffiliated entities--have instead "deterred non-affiliated programmers from using leased access, further entrenched cable operators' hold on video programming, and have not resolved the harms that the leased access provisions were designed to address, such as cable operators' lack of incentive to provide programming with divergent interests."

The religious leaders are concerned about access to those channels for religious programming.

The comments came in response to the FCC's annual state of video competition report, which was released last month. In the report, the FCC concluded that consumers now have a choice, on average, of broadcast, cable, and two satellite services for their TV, as well as increased offers of bundled services--TV, Internet access, phone. It also concluded that rather than necessarily lowering cable prices, wired incumbents have responded by adding more services.

As part of its report, the FCC found that cable systems with at least 36 channels are available to at least 70% of U.S. households. What isn't clear is whether at least 70% of that household figure subscribe. Once both those tests are passed, the FCC is directed by Congress to do whatever it needs to to promote video competition in the marketplace.

The FCC said it is has received data that varies from a 60% subscriber rate to 77%. Given that disparity and commenters disagreement on the figure, the commission sought further comment on the best way to measure that 70% subscriber rate, as well as what regulatory steps it may need to take when it determines that benchmark has been met.

Monday's commenters said they thought the threshhold had been met, but said that even if it hadn't, the FCC should open the investigation into leased access, saying 1) the rules were deficient to begin with, the FCC lacks sufficient information about leased access, and technology--DTV, VOD, IPTV--has outstripped the rules.

They say it is unclear that the 10%-15% set-aside is being applied to these new distribution streams.