Program-access rules could get extension


Cable-affiliated programmers would be required to sell their shows to
satellite-TV providers and other rivals for another few years under a Federal
Communications Commission order expected Thursday.

Sources familiar with the FCC's plans didn't know how long the rules would
remain in place, but the expectation was for no more than five years.

Without an extension, the rules expire in October.

The 10-year-old rules are credited for spurring the growth of the
direct-broadcast satellite industry, but the commission is said to be concerned
that cable companies still have sufficient market power to deny satellite
distributors carriage of some major networks.

Related to the program-access rules, federal judges ruled Tuesday that
Comcast Corp. is under no obligation to sell its Philadelphia sports network to
satellite-TV carriers.

EchoStar has long complained that Comcast unfairly exploited a loophole in
the program-access rules in order to keep satellite companies from carrying Philadelphia regional channel Comcast SportsNet.

Programs must be shared only when they are delivered from networks to cable
systems via satellite. SportsNet is delivered to Comcast systems by fiber link.

Like the FCC before them, judges of the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.,
ruled that Comcast had legitimate business reasons for relying on fiber link and
that it was not using the transmission method as a dodge to lock out satellite carriers.

Disappointed by the ruling, EchoStar officials called on the FCC to prevent
further erosion of the program-access rule by closing the terrestrial loophole
"once and for all."