FCC Sets Comment Deadline on Program Access Questions

Seeks input on whether it should consider withholding co-owned RSNs presumptively unfair
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The FCC has set a Dec. 17 deadline for final comments on
various proposals related to its revision of program access rules, including
key proposals backed by the American cable Association.

On Oct. 5, the FCC voted to sunset its ban on exclusive
contracts between MVPDs and co-owned programming networks, complaints about
which will now be handled under the existing prohibition on unfair practices
(section 628[b]).

At the same time, and as a way to address the concerns of
small cable operators, the commission issued a Further Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking seeking comment on various other possible changes, including a
proposal to change the FCC's definition of "buying group" to allow
the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) to file program access
complaints without assuming collective liability for all of its members, and a
variety of rebuttable presumptions related to exclusive contracts, both
proposals backed by the American Cable Association.

The rebuttable presumptions, which effectively put the onus on
distributors to prove the presumptions wrong, included on withholding regional
sports nets (RSNs), that there be standstills during complaints about RSNs,
that a similar presumption should be applied to national sports networks -- like
ESPN or NBC Sports Net -- and on whether prior successful complaints should be
cause for a rebuttable presumption of unfairness in future complaints involving
the same company.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has
argued against adding a series of presumptions of unfairness that it suggests
would amount to reinstating the ban the FCC just got finished lifting.

Initial comments are due Nov. 30, with replies due Dec. 17.

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