FCC Majority Approves Program Carriage Order: Sources

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Sources close to two of the FCC commissioners confirms that a majority of them have approved tweaks to the program carriage rules, with the order/notice awaiting the last vote -- from commissioner Robert McDowell, the lone Republican, who is said to still be reviewing it -- before it becomes official.

As reported in Multichannel News back in May, the item sets up a regime for granting interim carriage during the adjudication of MVPD program-carriage complaints, and sets deadlines for dealing with those complaints.

The item combines an order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, with the order containing a framework and legal analysis for imposing temporary standstills on existing contracts while program-carriage complaints are pending or compensation for noncarriage -- for example, a channel complaining that it couldn't get a contract in the first place citing discrimination according to affiliation. If such a complaint were upheld, there would be some form of "true up" payment for what the cable operator would have been paying if it had agreed to carry the network.

Part of the impetus for the order and notice is to weed out complaints unlikely to pass muster, and speed the resolution of those that would. The FCC has been under long-standing pressure from Congress to speed the resolution of carriage complaints, some of which have taken years to decide.

In fact, then FCC chair nominee Julius Genachowski told the Senate Commerce Committee during his confirmation hearings back in June 2009 that timely resolution of carriage disputes would be a priority. Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) had complained that the FCC rarely resolved them in a timely manner.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has argued that the carriage rules, as well as program access and leased access rules, are no longer necessary at all given an increasingly competitive multichannel marketplace.

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