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FCC boosts scrutiny

Regulatory action to be revealed Nov. 27

Tuesday, Nov. 27, could well be a date that lives in infamy for the cable TV biz.

That’s when FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin will unload both barrels of much-anticipated regulatory action at the industry.

The commission is skedded to take up and quite likely pass no less than four items that cablers say will hurt them big time.

Martin has said the measures are necessary to promote competition within an industry whose subscription rates have been disproportionately rising. Tuesday’s agenda includes new rules that would force cablers to slash leased-access rates by 75%, hand the Hallmark Channel and the NFL Network victories to Time Warner Cable and Comcast, and make it easier for minority programmers or nets to demand carriage on big cable systems.

But the biggest concern is over the FCC’s latest annual report on video competition, which Martin has said will show cablers have reached a point of market penetration warranting regulatory action.

Cablers and even Martin’s two fellow GOP commissioners say the data supporting that contention are unreliable.

But if Martin manages to secure the votes of the FCC’s two Democratic commissioners — strange bedfellows, indeed — the report will clear the way for a potential barrage of even more regulations.

Caps on acquisitions and growth, anyone? Price controls? Possibly just the beginning.

Martin wants to allow cabler providers to pick and choose what channels they want to carry — just as he’d like individual subscribers to pick from cablers only the channels they want.

Problem is, Martin’s program-untying proposal doesn’t address the rates that content providers can charge. If the rule goes through, Disney or Viacom could say, “OK, instead of five channels costing a total of $1 per subscriber, each channel now costs $1. No, let’s make that $2.”

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