Congress reviews cable programming law

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A law that requires cable companies that own both systems and programming networks to make their programming available to all comers at fair prices expires next March, so Congress is preparing to reexamine the law.

Cable industry representatives, speaking before the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, didn't go so far as to ask to be rid of the law, but NCTA President Robert Sachs pointed out that today there are 224 national cable networks, as opposed to 76 in 1989. Sachs also said that vertical integration among cable operators has dropped from 53% in 1989 to 35% last year.

Cable competitors testifying at the hearing - RCN and DirecTV - said they still are having trouble gaining access to some cable programming, particularly local sports nets owned by Comcast in Philadelphia and Cablevision in New York.

That complaint had Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) worked up, wondering why Comcast along with number-one and number-two ranked cable operators AOL Time Warner and AT&T couldn't make the hearing. Specter also said Comcast refused to give RCN a long-term programming deal for Comcast Sports Net until he met personally with both parties. "I wonder why that had to come about in a Senator's office," said Specter, who said he planned on Wednesday to send a letter to Comcast's president. - Paige Albiniak

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