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FCC Exclusivity Ban Sunset Draws Interested Stares - Broadcasting & Cable

FCC Exclusivity Ban Sunset Draws Interested Stares

Rockefeller warns Congress might have to step in if anticompetitive behavior is spurred
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Stakeholders and interested spectators were
quick to react Friday to the news the FCC had sunset the ban on exclusive
contracts, including a warning from one powerful senator that he would be
monitoring the marketplace.

Senate
Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) said he was
reviewing the action "very carefully."

"As
recent hearings in the Commerce Committee have demonstrated, consumers still
face ever-escalating rates and little power to address them," he said.
"The program access rules were an integral part of Congress's attempt to
promote competition and consumer choice in the 1992 Cable Act.  I
appreciate that the FCC has put into place a process by which individual
complaints can be brought against cable companies that lock up their
programming. But if this new process does not deter anticompetitive behavior
that harms consumers, Congress will need to consider whether it should restore
appropriate safeguards."

Rockefeller's
former top aide is FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted for the
sunset, but also has concerns about insuring continued access to programming.

US
Telecom, which had sought to retain the ban, said the move would make it harder
for them to build out broadband, particularly to rural areas, because of the
impact on the video service that that justifies those buildouts.

"While
we appreciate the commission's willingness to make some changes to this order [the
FCC added a shot clock to program access complaints, for one], today's action
is likely to make it more difficult to build and operate broadband networks,
especially in rural communities where revenues from offering competitive video
services are essential in order to make a business case for broadband
deployment," said USTelecom President Walter McCormick Jr.

"There
is near universal agreement in the record in support of continuing the
commission's long-standing prohibition on the ability of large cable companies
to withhold critical programming as a tool for suppressing the ability of
alternative providers to compete-including support from small cable companies,
rural telephone companies, satellite providers and public interest groups."

Free
Press Policy Director Matt Wood concedes the landscape has changed, but says
those changes came as a result of the ban and getting rid of it could reverse
those gains.

"This
decision suggests that the competitive landscape has changed since the program
access rules were adopted," he said. "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."

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who had asked the chairman earlier in the week not to lift that ban, said he would also continue to monitor the FCC's decision with an eye toward protecting consumers.

"Although the Commission is putting in place new safeguards to substitute for the program access rules, it is unclear whether these requirements will provide consumers with the level of protection that is still needed in the video distribution marketplace," he said. "As the principal House author of the Cable Act of 1992, I believe that strong protections against anti-competitive behavior are still necessary, and I look forward to continuing to work to ensure that today's decision does not tilt the playing field against consumers and choice."

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