/// FCC Set to Decide on Program Access Rule

August 31, 2012  |  Media Week

Programming lineups at most cable and satellite systems look alike, carrying the same networks and channels, with only a few exceptions. That could be about to change. When the Federal Communications Commissions returns from the long Labor Day weekend, it will have a month to decide whether or not it wants to retire a 20-year rule that requires cable companies that own programming, like Comcast or Cablevision, to make their programming available to their competitors at reasonable terms. The rule, called the program access rule, was part of the Cable Act of 1992. Without it, DirecTV and Dish may have never gotten off the ground, let alone newer entrants AT&T and Verizon. The FCC has already renewed the rule twice, once in 2002 for five years and the second time in 2007 for another five. The deadline to extend, retire or modify it is Oct. 5. If the FCC does nothing, the rule goes away, leaving cable companies free to cut exclusive programming deals for their networks or to deny the programming to other distributors all together. Programming that could be at risk of disappearing from cable systems, satellite services or the telco TV services (AT&T and Verizon) that don't own the programming or aren't willing to pony up whatever fees the owners ask, could be Comcast-owned SportsNet, MSNBC, CNBC or Cablevision's MSG. It's easy to see how having exclusive programming translates into a competitive advantage for the cable company pitching exclusive sports networks to the consumer, especially the avid sports fan that can't live without Knicks or Rangers games who would select a pay TV distributor based on sports. The debate over the rule pits big cable up against smaller cable systems.

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FCC Set to Decide on Program Access Rule

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