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More Status Quo in U.S. Pay-TV Marketplace

Cable TV is advancing as Wall Street bid up cable company stocks 61 percent in the past year, far above the 12 percent gain in the broad market. That's why cable MSOs are under the oversight microscope, once again.

Most conspicuously, the Federal Communications Commission voted last month to require states and cities to act within 90 days on franchise applications, in a victory for telephone companies wishing to launch rival pay-TV services. The FCC action is among a half dozen setbacks for cable, according to Kagan Research.

"Cable has been playing defense for over a decade and generally fared well, when taking the long view," notes John Mansell, senior analyst at Kagan Research. "Certainly cable has incurred its fair share of setbacks at the FCC and in court cases, but it has been spared what would be large reversals on other issues."

Mansell notes cable has beaten back efforts to require carriage of all digital broadcast TV channels (known as multicast must-carry), is not forced to offer basic/expanded basic channels individually (a la carte), is not subject to FCC indecency rules, does not operate under rate regulation and is not hamstrung by broadband access mandates (net neutrality).

Cable has also notched one big win. "Policymakers are taking a light-touch approach in regulating cable's phone services," says Mansell. "We also think that many aspects of telco franchising successes over time will redound to cable's benefit at franchise renewal time."

I find it interesting to note that three of the four regulatory and litigation 'successes' that Kagan lists for the cable MSOs are clearly anti-consumer measures -- i.e. raising service tier prices, while offering no 'a la carte' option -- that are intended to maintain the competitive status quo in the U.S. pay-TV marketplace.

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