Big Cable Loses in Court

Court upholds program access rules
Contact Info: 

Liz Rose, Communications Director, Free Press, 202-265-1490 x 32 or lrose@freepress.net

WASHINGTON -- A federal court has upheld regulations that prevent cable TV companies from withholding channels from competing TV providers, including satellite, telecom and smaller cable companies.

Friday's ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia leaves in place an important component of the Federal Communications Commission program access rules -- the "exclusive contract ban" -- until the rule expires in 2012. Cablevision Systems Corp. and Comcast Corp. had challenged the rules in court.

Corie Wright, Free Press policy counsel, made the following statement:

"This is a win, but a short lived one. We are pleased the court recognized that many large cable operators still maintain a vice grip over must-have programming and that their ability to withhold it from competitors can mean life or death for competition and consumer choice.

"Comcast -- one of the companies that challenged this rule in court -- is proposing to acquire NBC Universal. If the merger is approved, Comcast will control an extensive suite of popular channels, including MSNBC, USA and Bravo. Its ability to withhold that programming from competing video services would give it enormous market power and leverage. When Comcast promises to abide by the program access rules, regulators should remember that this important rule sunsets in two years. If Comcast acquires NBC-Universal, the conditions of market concentration that prompted the FCC to extend this rule will be substantially worsened and warrant even greater scrutiny.

"The program access rules are flawed, but they are better than nothing. The FCC should consider extending the exclusive contract ban once it expires, as well as adopt wholesale reforms to the program access rules to eliminate pricing loopholes that allow the major program providers to impose unfair terms and rates on their competitors."

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