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Cable operator Mediacom blasts FCC

September 1, 2011 | 12:59 pm

A major cable operator has blasted the Federal Communications Commission for not taking an active role in trying to keep programming costs down.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Rocco Commisso, the chairman and chief executive of Mediacom, a New York-based cable operator with about 1.14 million subscribers in 22 states, criticized the regulatory agency for not being aggressive in trying to keep programming costs down.

"I am deeply disappointed with the Commission's lack of interest in keeping multichannel television services affordable," Commisso wrote. "Content owners have been unwilling to exercise the slightest measure of self-restraint, and are emboldened by the Commission's unwillingness to even try to impose some limits or speak out against programmers' practices."

Commisso said that by not acting, the FCC has "cost Americans billions of dollars, as programming owners have increased their rates well in excess of inflation."

Much of Commisso's beef is about having to pay broadcasters more in so-called retransmission consent fees to retransmit their local television stations.

"It is especially shameful that retransmission consent fees have dramatically increased even as movies and sports events migrate from broadcast channels to pay networks and broadcast stations severely cut staff and budgets for news and public affairs programming," Commisso said.

The veteran cable executive is also upset with the way cable programmers bundle their popular and unpopular channel together so distributors have to carry them all on the most widely distributed programming tiers.

"Subscribers are forced to pay for channels they do not want," Commisso told the FCC.

Commisso said the growing cost of programming is hurting Genachowski's efforts to provide broadband to low-income homes and that a "digital divide" is being created as prices rise "beyond the means or more and more Americans."

Remedies Commisso pitched include designing an a la carte system that would give consumers more control over what channels they get. He also wants more transparency, including the ability to require broadcasters and cable networks to make public what they charge distributors to carry their channels.

"Right now I'm just a collection agency for the programming community," Commissio said in an interview. "We take the brunt of the criticism because we send the bill to the consumer."

-- Joe Flint

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