Satellite and telco operators seeking access to cable-owned
sports programming were high-fiving over the FCC's vote to end the exemption of
terrestrially-delivered networks, particularly sports networks, from being made
available to competitors. But they were beaten to the punch by the FCC's
chairman who began the torrent of sports-related metaphors with his own
shout-out for the order.
"The Commission takes an important step in promoting
competition, empowering consumers, and fostering innovation by closing a loophole
in our program access rules," said Julius Genachowski. "The loophole
gives free reign to cable-TV operators to lock up local sports events and other
popular programming and withhold them from rival providers. Locking up a
much-loved local sports franchise could be game, set, match for cable
competition," he said. "Consumers who want to switch video providers
shouldn't have to give up their favorite team in the process. Today the
Commission levels the competitive playing field."
"The Federal Communications Commission gave sports fans
a reason to tailgate today by adopting rules to bring sports programming to
more video providers," blogged AT&T Senior VP Bob Quinn Wednesday (Jan. 20). "Ultimately,
this means consumers will have more choices in how and from who they receive
programming they want.
We are hopeful that with these new rules, consumers in
Connecticut will no longer have to watch their favorite sports teams in
standard definition just because they want to sign up for AT&T's
award-winning U-Verse video service, nor will baseball fans in San Diego have
to give up the Padres to make the same choice."
"This is a big-time victory for television sports fans,"
said Kathleen Grillo, senior VP of federal regulatory affairs at Verizon. "The FCC's decision to make must-see regional
sports programming, including high-definition feeds, presumptively available to
competitors, puts viewers in the driver's seat. This ruling means that
consumers will no longer have to stick with their incumbent cable provider in
order to watch local teams in high definition."
Satellite operators were equally buoyed by the news.
"The FCC's order today eliminating the terrestrial loophole
is a big win for consumers and fair competition in the marketplace," said
DirecTV in a statement. "We vigorously applaud the FCC for recognizing
that withholding cable-owned regional sports networks from non-cable
competitors significantly hinders competition and is anti-consumer. We are
looking forward to offering DirecTV customers the local sports programming they
have been denied for so many years."
"Dish Network congratulates the FCC for delivering
consumers a double victory," said that company in a statement.
"First, sports fans in Philadelphia and San Diego will soon have
a choice of pay-TV providers; second, consumers can no longer be held hostage
during a contract dispute between cable programmers and video distributors. Dish
Network thanks Chairman Genachowski for his leadership and for standing up for
consumers and competition."
There is a pending program access complaint against Cox in
San Diego, and while there is no complaint in Philly, Comcast Sports Net has
been exempt from program access conditions applied to the Adelphia merger to
the extent it was unavailable at the time of the order. Now, the FCC says an multichannel
video programming distributor (MVPD) not getting access to that net can now
file a complaint under the new order.
Even some cable operators, the smaller and midsized ones
represented by the American Cable Association, appeared not to be opposed
to the decision, suggesting it was in the public interest: "Over the
years, the American Cable Association has kept a close eye on the availability
of terrestrially-delivered programming controlled by vertically integrated
cable operators," said ACA President Matt Polka. "As a general
matter, ACA believes that the public interest is best served when multichannel video
programming distributors have access to all programming on nondiscriminatory
terms and conditions."