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WASHINGTON -- On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission allowed key parts of its "program access" rules to expire, in a decision that could make it harder for rivals to traditional cable companies to compete. The regulations sunset today thanks to provisions in previous FCC decisions and in the underlying federal law. The Commission previously extended the rules in 2002 and 2007, but decided not to this time.

The program access rules prevent cable operators like Cablevision, Comcast and Time Warner from denying the channels they own to providers like DirecTV, DISH, AT&T's uVerse or Verizon's FiOS. Allowing these rules to sunset means there is no longer a general ban on exclusive cable contracts for properties like Comcast's lineup of NBC sports and news channels.

However, the decision does promise the possibility of some continued FCC oversight and case-by-case enforcement against unfair practices in the market for such content.

Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood made the following statement:

"This decision suggests that the competitive landscape has changed since the program access rules were adopted. That's true to some extent, but the choices we have in the market today emerged as a result of these very same rules. Getting rid of them or weakening them threatens to undermine that landscape, especially at a time when incumbent cable operators wield so much power over traditional pay-television services and online video options.

"We hope there will be some continued protection for cable sports programming and other must-have shows, which cable companies have so often denied to satellite customers in cities from Philadelphia to Portland. We also hope the Commission will use its general authority to prevent unfair practices by big cable when abuses inevitably crop up."

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