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Cable Technology Feature Article

March 12, 2010

Federal Court Upholds FCC's Program Access Rules

By Patrick Barnard, Senior Web Editor, TMCnet

A federal court has upheld an FCC (News - Alert) regulation that requires cable providers to make sports programming and other channels they own available on equal terms to rival TV providers.

That means the major cable companies, including Cablevision, Comcast (News - Alert) and Cox, must make their “exclusive” content available to competing services such as DirecTV, Dish Network, Verizon Fios or AT&T Uverse.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upholds the FCC’s 'program access' rules, which are designed to ensure cable companies cannot withhold popular programming that they own from competitors.

The decision was a blow to the major cable operators, which were challenging the FCC's decision to extend a ban on exclusive programming contracts for five years.

In response, Cablevision released the following statement: “Like the must carry and retransmission consent regime that allowed ABC to blackout the Oscars for 3 million New York households this week, the program access rules are based on an outdated and obsolete view of the competitive landscape. In today’s highly competitive video marketplace these rules do nothing but tilt the playing field in favor of phone companies and broadcasters to the detriment of fair competition and consumers.”

In addition Matthew M. Polka, president and CEO of the American Cable Association, released a statement saying: 'While we are pleased that the court recognized today that the FCC had substantial evidence to conclude that vertically integrated cable companies have the ability and incentive to withhold ‘must-have’ programming from competitors, we maintain that the current program access rules are demonstrably ineffective for competitive pay-TV content buyers because they permit rampant, unjustified price discrimination. Moreover, the rules fail to provide for an automatic right to continued carriage during the pendency of a complaint and do not offer any rate-setting mechanisms. For these reasons, ACA asserts that program access rules will not alleviate the substantial harms that would result from the Comcast-NBCU merger, and that structural or behavioral remedies must be put in place by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice before that deal is approved.”

For more information, check out this report.