Comcast Morally Outraged That America Channel Adjusts Business Model to FCC Rules. Cats outraged when mice fight back.

Some of you may recall The America Channel and their efforts to blow the whistle on Comcast’s exercise of market power in the cable programming world. As part of resolution of the Adelphia transaction, the Commission declined to provide any specific relief for The America Channel. They did promise to have a general rulemaking on the carriage complaint process (whereby independent programmers complain that cable operators have illegally discriminated against them) and the leased access process (whereby independents can lease access to the cable system) (a proceeding the Commission announced last month). The Commission also created special protection for regional sports networks (RSNs) so that Comcast could not do unto others as they did unto Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. As part of the FCC’s order approving the Adelphia transaction, a regional sports network can demand carriage on Comcast or Time Warner, and can require that an arbitrator resolve the cost issues.

TAC, seeing that it would get nowhere with its old programming idea, proceeded to reinvent itself as a regional sports network. It has deals with a number of NCAA Division I schools โ€” particularly for the less popular women’s sports, which it will bring to the various regions the schools are in. TAC will pay for the production costs but will not pay for the games themselves, a reversal of the usual royalty agreement I understand. TAC has gotten carriage on cable overbuilder RCN, provided TAC can reach the critical mass of carriage on other providers to achieve viability.

So how’s that working out, and what will the FCC do? More below . . . .

Continue reading

FCC Staff resolves leased access complaint after only 3 years! Go team!

O.K., it is probably a bad idea to make fun of people for doing stuff you want them to do. So when the FCC released a leased access complaint on January 29, I should probably have just applauded for joy. But given that it took three years to resolve a complaint when the cable company in question never even filed a reply to the complaint, I think a little mention of what is wrong with the current leased access rules, and the Commission’s enforcement of same, is needed.

And I will pause to put in a genuinely good word for the New Media Chief Monica Shah Desai for getting this cranked out relatively quickly after she got there. Keep crackin’ that whip!

But the decision also highlights everything I’ve been complaning about in the current leased access system so that even the people who want to make it work are having a heck of a time and why we need the leased access rulemaking that Martin promised Adelstein back in July.

Some analysis below . . . .

Continue reading

VDC — Video VOIP

I confess I hadn’t heard of VDC: Virtual Video Cable until they filed a program access complaint. Of course, since the vast majority of people probably hadn’t heard about that either (or even know what a “program access complaint” is), I imagine I remain in the distinct minority.

VDC bills itself as a purely broadband-based cable-like service. I compare it to “video VOIP” (or voice-over-IP for the five readers unfamiliar with the acronym). In theory, a service like VDC could provide real competition to cable by letting you get an actual cable service (as opposed to video clips like YouTube or random episodes from iTunes or from some streaming site) — just like VOIP allows a company like Vonage or Sunrocket to offer voice if you have a broadband connection so you can discontinue phone service, saving a bundle (assuming your broadband provider does not make you buy a bundled service or interere with your VOIP packets).

So it is unsurprising that when a possible competitor like VDC emerges, cable uses its market power to try to squash it like a bug. In this case, cable companies have resurected one of the old reliable tricks from their early days: deny the would-be competitor needed programming. Here, Time Warner has refused to enter into negotiations to make CNN available to VDC. (We can expect that if this doesn’t do the trick, cable cos will move to the new fangled tricks — mess with the packets.)

But VDC has a few weapons in its arsenal. It has invoked a provision of the 1992 Cable Act called the “program access rule” that Congress passed to force cable operators to make programming available to would-be competitors like Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) providers. VDC has only two problems:

1) The complaint is being handled by the FCC’s usual cable enforcement staff which, as I have observed previously, does not exactly move on “internet time.”

2) The program access rules stop working (“sunset”) this October. So even if staff resolve the complaint in something approaching reasonable time, it may not do much good.

So is video VOIP dead before it even starts? Not necessarily. For a full explanation of what’s going on and how you (yes, you) can help make video VOIP a reality, see below . . . .

Continue reading

Adelphia Decided

I was off at my cardiologist getting a stress test, so I missed this. Happily, I had crammed the night before and passed with flying colors! Because today’s FCC meeting was, from all descriptions, totally surreal โ€” including a shout out to yr hmbl obdnt blogger!

Short substance review: The FCC did not adopt a network neutrality condition, they did not adopt a condition on PBS Sprout, allowing Comcast to get by with a voluntary commitment to make the programming available on a non-exclusive basis for the next three years. They acted on the Washington Nationals, and gave a nod to leased access.

More details, and further implications, below . . .

Continue reading

Fighting Big Cable (and why it matters)

Most of my time the last few weeks has been taken up with cable ownership issues. If you want the short version and the immediate, easy action to take, click through to my friends at Free Press. For those interested in a little more detail and what else you can do, read on . . .

Continue reading