Monday, October 16, 2017

Comcast Accused of Jacking Up Smaller Cable Company Costs -

A coalition of smaller cable providers have accused Comcast of hamstringing efforts by smaller cable providers to sell cheaper, so-called "skinny bundles." In an FCC filing (pdf) and associated blog post, the American Cable Association (ACA) accuses Comcast of being heavy handed in contract negotiations for the company's "NBC Sports" regional sports networks, hindering these smaller companies' ability to offer smaller bundles of less expensive channel bundles that don't include sports. Sports are the biggest contributor to your bloated cable bill -- a notable problem if you don't watch them.

The ACA was responding to the FCC request for comments on its looming 19th "Annual Assessment of the Status of Competition in the Market for the Delivery of Video Programming."

According to the ACA, Comcast will often force smaller companies to bundle its local NBC Sports regional sports network into the base cable tier if distribution of that tier reaches 15% of the operator's overall footprint. The ACA, which represents more than 700 smaller cable companies, says these kinds of "minimum penetration policies" prevent them from offering the kind of inexpensive, more flexible skinny bundles their viewers want.

"Many consumers that want to opt out of the big cable bundle in favor of a less expensive alternative are gravitating to a bundle that includes just the basic cable tier (essentially local TV stations) plus broadband Internet access and then relying on over-the-top video services to gain access to a more limited amount of cable programming more narrowly tailored to their specific interests," ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.

"Comcast, it seems, is standing in the way of ACA members that want to help their customers escape the burdens of the big and expensive expanded basic bundle of channels, while at the same time aggressively marketing a bundle of networks very similar to the broadcast basic tier to its own customers through its new 'Instant TV' service."

Granted the ACA holds some responsibility here, as it cheered the appointment of FCC boss Ajit Pai, yet now seems perplexed by the agency's tendency to prioritize the interest of giant campaign contributors. The ACA has similarly complained about the FCC's efforts to rubber stamp the Sinclair Tribune merger, something the group says will hurt small cable operators' ability to compete even more.

Comcast, as you might expect, insists it has done nothing wrong.

"NBCUniversal negotiates in good faith with all of its distribution partners with the goal of making programming available to as many viewers as possible on fair market terms that are consistent with what other programmers offer."

Smaller cable companies also lack the scale and therefore leverage necessary to strike the same programming deals enjoyed by ever-growing companies like Comcast NBC Universal or AT&T Time Warner. As a result, many have been pondering getting out of the pay TV sector entirely as their margins get tighter and tighter.

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