FCC Asks For Input on Program Access

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The FCC has released its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) asking for comment on whether to extend its ban on exclusive program contracts between vertically integrated media companies and cable operators in which they have an interest.

A 1996 revamp of the Communications Act said that the ban would sunset Oct. 5, 2002, unless the FCC found that the ban "continues to be necessary to preserve and protect competition and diversity in the distribution of video programming.” Before that first sunset, the FCC decided it was still necessary, and extended it through Oct. 2, 2007.

The commission is now asking whether it should now be allowed to sunset, as well as whether and how its resolution of program access complaints should be resolved, including whether there should be a shot clock on resolving the complaints.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has signaled he is concerned about insuring continued access to program to cable competitors, telling the Senate Commerce Committee in an oversight hearing earlier this month that "We need to continue our efforts to create a regulatory environment that encourages entry into this market and more choice for consumers.This includes making sure that competitive providers have access to “must-have” programming that is vertically integrated with a cable operator."

The program access provisions in the 1992 Cable Act were adopted to promote competition to cable from other multichannel video providers, particularly satellite but including overbuilders and, potentially, telcos.

In its NPRM, released Wednesday, it asks whether changes in the market--specifically the rise in telco TV, the co-ownership of DirecTV and Fox TV stations, and the purchase of Adelphia by Comcast and Time Warner--have "diminished or increased the need for the exclusivity prohibition."