FCC Poised To Extend Program Access Rules Through 2012

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Washington – The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote next Tuesday on a plan to extend cable program access rules for another five years.

The rules, which are to sunset on Oct. 5 if not extended, require cable operators to sell their satellite-delivered networks to pay-TV rivals DirecTV and EchoStar and to other cable operators. The FCC extended the rules five years in 2002 and is expected to do the same before the Oct. 5 deadline.

The agency is also poised to consider a plan supported by FCC chairman Kevin Martin that would examine features of the wholesale program acquisition market. The American Cable Association, for example, has complained that large programming conglomerates use their clout to force small cable companies to sign up for networks they don’t want to distribute.

Another Martin proposal concerns whether the FCC and entities that file program access complaints will be able to obtain access to the contracts that the cable-affiliated programmer has with any distributor. The proposal is controversial because it would create a broad discovery right that might trigger complaints by parties that are more interested in seeing contracts than resolving disputes.

Separately, the FCC is expected to vote on an order designed to create some local franchising parity between cable incumbents and new entrants. Last December, the FCC voted to require franchising authorities to act within 90 days on cable franchise applications filed by entities with existing permission to occupy local rights of way. The FCC vote next Tuesday is expected to offer cable incumbents certain processing guarantees when their franchises come up for renewal.

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