Kevin Martin‘s days as FCC chmn may be numbered, but he continues to try and push through proposals aimed at the cable industry. He confirmed Wed that he is proposing for the Dec 18 meeting a program access order that would require the Commission to act on program access complaints within 6 months. But it also would reportedly lower the standards for filing a complaint and broaden the program access statute so that video providers who carry vertically integrated programming associated with other cable ops are subject to complaints—even though they have no ownership stake in the programmer. "The combination of widening the net and watering down the very real, fairly high threshold… would inevitably result in more and more programming being forced onto a tier and higher and higher prices," NCTA chief Kyle McSlarrow told Cfax. But rising cable prices are exactly what Martin wants to avoid, which is why he said he’s also putting forth a notice of further proposed rulemaking on unbundling. He cited Cablevision‘s recent proposal that programmers not be allowed to require carriage on a particular tier of service, such as expanded basic ( Cfax , 11/26). The proposal would apply to cable programmers and broadcasters choosing retrans consent. "Some of the small operators through ACA, and some of the mid-size and larger carriers, like Mediacom and Cablevision, have said that they would have more flexibility to lower the retail rate because if a programmer or broadcaster who is renegotiating retransmission consent wanted to charge additional prices for it, then that cable operator could say, ‘That’s fine, but then I’m not going to put you in expanded basic,’" Martin said. "This is the very argument that several of the cable operators, including the largest ones, have made in context of the sports programming negotiations. Comcast has made this very same argument in context with the NFL complaint." McSlarrow, who has pushed for retrans reform at the Congressional level, contends that the FCC has no authority to tackle to the issue. Martin has proposed a notice on unbundling, not an order, so the FCC would only seek comments. Disney filed its own response Wed to Cablevision’s proposal, noting that in an a la carte lawsuit brought against programmers and operators Cablevision denied that consumers have been hurt because they are required to purchase products they don’t want. Opponents of the program access and unbundling proposals are arguing that the FCC should be focused on the impending digital transition, not major, controversial reform with a new president about to take office. But some consumer groups, such as Consumers Union, cheered the news. "Cable companies have been leveraging their enormous market power to shut out independent content," said Free Press deputy policy dir Shawn Chang. "We are also pleased that the chairman has launched a new inquiry into the anti-competitive activities that drive up consumer rates and limit the diversity of voices on cable systems."

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