DeWine Planning Program-Access Bill

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The cable industry plans to oppose Senate legislation yet to be introduced that would require cable companies to make all of their programming available to pay TV competitors.

Under current law, cable companies only have to sell satellite-delivered programming, which allows them to shield highly desirable regional sports and news networks from EchoStar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network, DirecTV Inc. and various wireline competitors, also called cable overbuilders.

In Philadelphia, Comcast Corp., for example, refuses to sell Comcast SportsNet, its popular regional sports network, to Dish Network and DirecTV on the basis that the network is terrestrially delivered.

Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) said Wednesday that he and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) would soon introduce a bill that would close the so-called terrestrial loophole. It was unclear whether the bill would address exclusive carriage deals between cable operators and unaffiliated networks.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Robert Sachs -- who testified Wednesday before the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition and Business and Consumer Rights -- told a reporter after the hearing that the NCTA would fight the DeWine-Kohl bill.

"We will vigorously oppose it," said Sachs, who testified along with Insight Communications Co. Inc. CEO Michael Willner.

In his testimony, Sachs said Congress deliberately excluded terrestrial programming from program-access mandates because it wanted to give cable companies the incentive to invest in local and regional networks, including news.

Sachs and Willner said closing the terrestrial loophole would run into the "law of unintended consequences" in that changing the law might make cable companies disinclined to invest in local content.

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