USA Today reports that FCC chairman Kevin Martin "is using the FCC’s upcoming annual report on cable TV prices as ammunition" for proposed rules that would streamline video franchising to increase competition for cable operators. Writes Leslie Cauley: "FCC officials say the [annual] report shows that satellite TV and cable TV operators have settled into a cozy duopoly, keeping prices in a steady, upward climb. It shows the average price of cable TV in 2005 was $43.33 a month. Where satellite TV also was available, the average was $43.34. But in markets with another ‘wired’ video provider, the price was dramatically less: $35.94. The upshot: Absent credible land-based rivals, cable TV prices will keep going up."

Martin’s proposed orders are now being reviewed by the FCC commissioners, according to the article which raised the ire of at least one cable operator: Cox Communications, which refuted the allegations in a point by point rebuttal on its DigitalStraightTalk.com website: "While we welcome competition from a fourth, fifth, or sixty-fifth competitor in our markets, there are a few problems with such a rudimentary analysis of potential benefits: In fact, there are already three competitors in each market as there are two national satellite providers. In markets where there is another wireline-based provider in addition to cable, there are four competitors. So, cable operators are not enjoying a duopoly (or a monopoly, as some still claim) and the efforts of the satellite competitors to win customers from us is nothing short of fierce…." Click here to read more of Cox’s side of the argument.

• Last night’s announcement that Mediacom subscribers wouldn’t lose Sinclair broadcast stations today following a carriage extension to Jan. 5 while retrans negotiations continue garnered a slew of local press this morning. The Southern Illinoisan, for example, wrote: "Mediacom subscribers who were restless about Sunday’s NFL games being blacked out on FOX affiliate KBSI can relax, at least for now. Just six hours before Sinclair Broadcast Group was set to pull 22 stations from Mediacom’s cable systems—including KBSI and local My Network TV affiliate WDKA—the two companies agreed to a contract extension that allows for further negotiation."

Dish Network subscribers will receive fewer channels as of today, the deadline for EchoStar to cut off "distant signals" broadcast stations. (As the Journal & Courier in Lafayette, IN, commented this morning: "County residents can also get the network stations through cable television.") The NAB yesterday accused EchoStar of circumventing today’s court-ordered cut-off of the signals by signing a deal that permits National Programming Service to provide distant channels to Dish customers. EchoStar countered that NAB’s charge was led by Fox stations "whose real intention is to deny consumers their freedom of choice and leave the Fox-owned DirecTV as a monopoly for distant networks." DirecTV is offering $150 to affected Dish subscribers who switch DBS service.

BusinessWeek deconstructs the Nov. 21 landmark Comcast/Disney carriage agreement and reports that more is to come. Writes Ron Grover: "BusinessWeek.com has learned that within weeks Comcast is expected to announce a new TV portal, code-named C-TV, that Disney will help promote through the use of film and TV clips that Comcast would use online. Down the road, the two companies may work more closely together to provide ABC, Disney Channel, and other kinds of programs for the portal as well, according to sources at both companies." Grover also says the two companies are pursuing day-and-date simultaneous releases of Disney movies on Comcast On Demand and home video.

• Today is World AIDS Day. Cable Positive unveiled its new public service announcements (with actress Rosie Perez on hand) and launched a public service announcement competition in New York City high schools to have students create PSAs. The "What’s Your Angle: Teens Take on AIDS" campaign is being produced in partnership with NetAid. Click here to see a video with Cable Positive CEO Steve Villano on the organization’s efforts in the lead-up to World AIDS Day (and beyond).

• Also in New York: MTVN Networks International president Bill Roedy was at the United Nations to hand over leadership of the Global Media AIDS Initiative to Dali Mpofu, CEO of the South African Broadcasting Corp.

• World AIDS Day programming on cable: Showtime is screening two films: Beat the Drum, an award-winning movie set in Africa, and 3 Needles, starring Stockard Channing and Lucy Liu. Sundance Channel is airing Cable Positive’s Positive Voices short doc tonight while BET is running special programming all weekend. Cable Positive’s website has a round-up of other World AIDS Day programming.

• Gov. Schwarzenegger appointed Verizon West region president Tim McCallion to California’s Broadband Task Force.

Current TV and Yahoo! are bailing out of the Yahoo! Current Network, according to a CNET blog which quotes a Current spokesman. The co-branded video site launched in Sept.

Lindsay Gardner, Fox Cable Networks’ president of affiliate sales and marketing, invited defeated Senate hopeful Harold E. Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) to his children’s Santa Monica school on Wednesday, according to the Los Angeles Times (reg. req.). "I would have given up all the other Democratic wins" for a successful outcome in Ford’s race, Gardner told the paper. "He made me believe in Camelot."

• FCC commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein spoke at a public forum yesterday in Seattle, where media ownership was top of the agenda (Seattle-Times).

• The New York Post reports that Cablevision‘s Dolans will start paying to use the company’s private plane.

Animal Planet and Discovery Channel will simulcast Steve Irwin’s final documentary, Ocean’s Deadliest, on Jan. 21 as the kick-off to a special on-air tribute to the late Crocodile Hunter that evening. Philippe Cousteau, who was on board Croc One with Irwin during the filming expedition when he was struck and killed by a stingray, narrates the 90-minute program.

USA Today asks: "Could Tony on A&E bring restrictions to cable?" David Lieberman writes that the basic cable debut of The Sopranos on Jan. 10—even a de-cussed version of the HBO series—"could result in government restrictions for basic networks, which now largely regulate themselves."

• Rocco "The Restaurant" DiSpirito talks to the Jacksonville Daily Record about his upcoming A&E series, a hybrid reality/cooking series.

The Daily

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Why is it that we’ve gotten into the mindset that “more” and “faster” are always better? I think in the case of broadband delivery to the home, we may find that in fact some consumers are losing out

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