No Need For New Lease on Access, Says NCTA

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The National Cable & Telecommunications Association says there is already plenty of multichannel video competition so there is no need for the FCC to take any regulatory steps to promote program diversity.

NCTA filed comments Monday on whether the so-called 70/70 test had been met and what the FCC might need to do if it had. The test is tied to leased-access provisions that require the FCC to set aside 10-15% of cable channels for lease to independent programmers.

According to statute, when cable is available to 70% of U.S. households, and 70% of those households are cable subscribers, the wired medium will have become sufficiently dominant that the FCC is allowed to come up with new regulations to "promote diversity of information sources."

NCTA says that, although the first threshhold has been met, the second hasn't and will likely never be as the increasing competition that the FCC itself acknowledges continues to siphon off market share. Telco SBC in its filing argued that both tests had been met and the FCC should step in to spur competition.

"This is an odd time for the Commission to address this issue," NCTA says in its filing. "The Commission has recognized that competition has irreversibly taken hold in the video marketplace and that cable's share of MVPD subscribers is steadily declining.

"Thus, even if cable penetration were very close to the 70% threshold (which, by all reasonable measures, it is not), there is every reason to expect that it will drop further and further below the threshold. Moreover, the concern that motivated Congress to adopt the 70/70 test - a fear that cable operators would increasingly become the sole source of video programming in a community - has been overtaken by marketplace developments."

In comments in the same proceeding, the Center for Digital Democracy, Catholic Bishops and the Benton Foundation argued that the same marketplace developments have led to new avenues for diverse programming, the Web, video-on-demand and IPTV, and that it was time to clarify what access obligations should apply to all those new services.

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