NCTA Wants Price Break

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The cable industry wants the Federal Communications Commission to act on a two-year-old request to make it easier for local franchises to woo back subscribers who flee to direct-broadcast satellite.

According to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, markets in 41 states benefit from satellite competition strong enough to warrant lifting uniform pricing requirements that prohibit cable operators from negotiating one-on-one deals with subscribers.

Cable operators are no longer bound by uniform pricing restraints when DBS providers or other competitors serve at least 15% of a market’s subscribers. Because DBS now holds more than 15% market share nationwide, NCTA wants the FCC to declare that every market in the country enjoys such “effective competition.”

Residents who believe DBS penetration in their area isn’t high enough could pitch the FCC on reinstating uniform pricing in their area.

Last week, NCTA reminded the FCC that it asked for the blanket ruling in 2002.

Right now, getting the FCC to declare that “effective competition” exists in a particular market is cumbersome and expensive, NCTA says.

Cable operators place part of the blame on the DBS industry for overcharging for the data needed to prove when a market is eligible. Although DirecTV and Echostar are supposed to provide the necessary Zip Code data free, a loophole lets them turn it over to their trade group, the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association, which is allowed to sell it.

The charge can add thousands of dollars to the cost of proving a market’s eligibility, NCTA says. An SBCA spokeswoman says the DBS industry’s practice complies with FCC guidelines.

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