ACA seeks FCC support against Viacom blocking online content

The American Cable Association has appealed for help from the FCC in its battle with Viacom's decision to block access to its online content for small cable operators Cable One, Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico, and potentially other ACA members.

In a letter to the FCC, attorney Barbara Esbin of the Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Cinnamon Mueller said that "Viacom's move to block a select group of broadband Internet customers regardless of whether they subscribed to the operators' video offerings or not is inconsistent with the fundamental tenet of Internet openness."

The ACA, she added, would like the FCC to see comment in its upcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on how the 2010 Open Internet Order rules apply to this case.

The letter was the second volley from the ACA, following a statement by ACA President Matt Polka decrying the actions Viacom took after Cable One, Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico and other small cable operators pulled Viacom's linear video lineup rather than pay more for retransmission fees. Those subscribers could still access Viacom content from online sites such as Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central--until Viacom blocked that access.

Viacom, Polka said in a statement, is likely just getting started with a policy that will adversely affect ACA's member base of small cable operators.

"We fully expect the list of small cable operators targeted by Viacom to grow based on preliminary information from dozens of ACA members who did not renew with Viacom," Polka said.

The National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) had negotiated a new programming deal for its members--almost all of whom are small cable operators--that many considered onerous. Instead of paying up, they shut down Viacom's linear lineup and, in some instances, encouraged subscribers to go online to see what they were missing.

By closing off that access, Viacom initiated a "flagrant attack on Internet openness" that was a "textbook replay of the vengeful action CBS took against Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) and Bright House Networks broadband customers during their well-documented retransmission consent dispute last August."

Polka said that he sees Viacom's action as something that deserves regulatory attention from both elected and appointed officials as they study how open the Internet should and must be.

For more:
- see this press release
- and the ACA's ex parte filing

Related articles:
Viacom shuts down online access for Cable One subscribers
Viacom-NCTC programming deal rejected by community-owned operator MPW
Viacom signs NCTC carriage deal, but Cable One refuses to restore MTV Networks
NCTC, Viacom retransmission dispute nears deadline