The American Cable Association and its lawyers are having a busy year.

As part of the National Broadband Plan, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering changes to the Universal Service Fund (USF), to laws about set-top boxes and CableCARDs, and to programming retransmission – all topics near and dear to small cable operators.

But of all the issues the cable group is responding to right now, the biggest one is the proposed Comcast NBCU merger, said Matt Polka, president of the ACA. He said the merger brings into focus many key concerns that ACA members face.

"We just realistically don’t see that the merger would be denied," he said. So the ACA is encouraging lawmakers to include restrictions on the merged company to limit its potential anti-competitive power.

FCC

On April 21, the FCC will hold an open meeting in which USF reform, CableCARD security, and home gateway devices are on the agenda.

The ACA has championed low-capability digital terminal adapters (DTAs) as a way for small cable operators to avoid having to purchase expensive CableCARD set-top boxes. (For more, click here). And Polka has sent a letter to the FCC requesting it to approve a waiver on an HD-capable DTA.

But waivers for DTAs could become a moot point if network gateways emerge as a better choice than set-top boxes.

"Our members would prefer if there were a capable consumer device," said Polka. "They would have to keep less inventory on the shelf."

As for USF reform, the ACA is pleased with the changes the FCC has proposed in the National Broadband Plan. Polka said the ACA wants the USF high-cost fund to be transitioned from a telecom fund to a broadband fund. "I think that’s in essence what the FCC wants to accomplish," he said. (For more, click here).

Retransmission

The ACA has been complaining for some time about ESPN’s push to get cable operators to charge their broadband customers for access to online sports at ESPN 360.

But that issue has paled compared to the retransmission fights between Cablevision and Scripps and Time Warner Cable and Fox.

Still, the ESPN 360 question is part of a sea change in how content will get distributed in the TV Everywhere future.

"Related to this is the Comcast NBCU merger," said Polka. "It cuts across a lot of the issues here – certainly online content and competition. What happens with Comcast NBCU could have a significant impact on what happens overall in the industry."

-Linda Hardesty

The Daily

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