One of the newest kids on the media organization block is the National Association of Independent Networks (NAIN), and it has already taken its gripes to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. Comprised of independent network programmers, including sports, entertainment, minority and other niche formats, it feels that practices of the big cable operators and media conglomerates offer its members limited opportunity for the lifeblood of cable carriage, and that those practices are anticompetitive. Their chief objection is to “tying,” where a multi-network operator forces a cable system to take less desirable channels in order to have access to a must-have channel. The association’s founding members include HD Net, the Hispanic Information & Telecommunications Network, The Horror Channel, and WealthTV. The latter’s Charles Herring is acting as spokesperson for the network.
RBR/TVBR observation: The American Cable Association has also complained about tying or bundling on Capitol Hill. Representing smaller cable operators, ACA’s Matt Polka said such practices put a strain on the smaller capacity systems that form a large part of his constituency.
This is the kind of big v. little battle that may gain traction if Democrats gain full operational control of Washington. Big companies will try to tie the issue to their First Amendment rights, but the smaller ones may fire right back that denial of access to channel space deprives them of those same rights.
If smaller companies are able to succeed in arguing that a certain amount of government regulation is appropriate in exchange for their use of the public right of way to string their wires, and then argue that they should be treated more like a common carrier than a private entertainment distributor, then big changes could be on the way. If cable operators see this as far fetched, they need look no further than efforts to hit broadcasters with program reporting requirements – something that is already in progress under a Republican FCC.