Christian television channel NRBTV recently filed comments with the FCC, requesting that the Commission take the steps needed to provide a pathway for independent non-commercial educational (NCE) channels to be carried on cable systems.
In its comments, NRBTV noted that its programming is unavailable to the cable industry’s 53 million video subscribers due to "numerous and pernicious" obstacles erected by those who control the access to the cable systems.
"[I]t has been nearly impossible for independent NCE channels to obtain system wide carriage or even limited regional carriage on cable systems," the channel pointed out.
While leased access – where the cable provider agrees to carry the channel even though it is not obligated to do so pursuant to the Communications Act – is theoretically an option, NRBTV reported that it is, in reality, also a blocked path. The preferred explanation from the cable providers for refusing to carry NRBTV – when a cable provider actually responds –is that there is no excess capacity due to “forced carriage”.
Furthermore, when there is excess capacity, some cable providers are converting the bandwidth to ISP services, which are much more lucrative than programming carriage. If that bandwidth is not being converted for use with ISP services and is available for carriage, cable providers are quoting exorbitant prices for that carriage.
"Since the cable providers have shown no inclination whatsoever to assist these channels in securing carriage, it is up to the Commission to take action," stated NRBTV, having previously noted how the FCC, at the birth of the broadcast industry, wisely decided that NCE programming was important enough to the public interest to merit dedicated capacity in over-the-air television and radio broadcasting. “Satellite and terrestrial broadcasting already have requirements for NCE programming, it’s time the cable industry gets onboard” stated NRBTV.
In offering solutions, NRBTV said the FCC should condition its grant of approval on any MVPD (Multichannel Video Programming Distributor) mergers setting aside 4-7% of its available capacity for NCE channels, and should limit how much MVPDs can charge for the use of the channel.
A permanent solution, the channel added, that would affect all cable providers rather than those seeking mergers is to amend the Communications Act to require the public interest set aside as satellite providers are currently required to do.
"Congress, the Commission and the Supreme Court have demonstrated through prior actions that non-commercial educational programming is widely held to be in the public interest," the channel stated. "Therefore, NRBTV respectfully requests that the Commission consider its comments thoroughly and take steps within the authority given to them to allow independent non-commercial educational channels such as itself a better opportunity for serving the American [public] by providing a pathway to carriage on cable systems.”
"It is wrong for cable companies to deny 53 million subscribers access to quality, diverse, and non-commercial educational programming because they don’t see it as profitable enough to their bottom line," NRBTV concluded.
NRBTV’s full public comment is available here.