Washington -- Program-access issues are among the concerns
that Federal Communications Commission officials are raising in connection with AT&T
Corp.'s takeover of Tele-Communications Inc. and its programming arm, Liberty Media
In a speech last week, FCC Cable Services Bureau chief
Deborah Lathen said she will be looking closely at the relationship between Liberty and
AT&T in the context of program access.
Wireless and private cable operators told the FCC in Oct.
29 comments that Liberty programming might be exempt from program-access rules after
AT&T buys the company. They also said Liberty programming should be made available to
them if AT&T decides to deliver the programming by terrestrial means, rather than via
CSB spokesman Morgan Broman said Lathen mentioned program
access as one item in a list of issues that will have to be considered in reviewing the
$48 billion merger.
Broman said Lathen mentioned broadband access as another
issue. He added that the FCC would not tackle digital must-carry requirements in its
review of the merger. That issue, he said, is being handled in a separate proceeding.
In late June, a TCI source said the operational
independence for Liberty after the merger would not result in an exemption from
program-access rules, which require vertically integrated programmers to sell their
satellite-delivered programming to cable competitors.
Last week, the TCI source said AT&T and TCI still had
no plans to convince the FCC that Liberty would be exempt from program-access rules after
the merger. FCC sources said the AT&T-TCI merger application did not discuss possible
Cable-industry sources said last week that they expect
AT&T and TCI to respond to the program-access issue Nov. 13, when reply comments on
the merger are due at the FCC.
The sources also said FCC officials have expressed the view
that the AT&T-TCI merger should not result in a decline in the number of cable
networks subject to program access rules.
"I think that people would be well-advised not to test
the commission on the application of program-access rules in the current
environment," National Cable Television Association president Decker Anstrom said.