Four Nets Join Leased Access Fight

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Washington—Four national cable networks on Wednesday asked a federal appeals court to block new federal rules designed to promote access by independent programmers to cable systems around the country.

TV One, C-SPAN, Discovery Communications and A&E Television Networks joined a court challenge launched by the industry's largest trade group, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

NCTA and now the programmers are trying to prevent implementation of new commercial leased access rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission last year.

Those rules set the rates that the programmers need to pay operators, who in the main have to set aside up to 15 percent of their channels for leased access purposes.

NCTA appealed the rules in a case pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati. NCTA asked the court to stay the rules after the FCC refused to do so. A ruling on the stay is pending.

In the statement, the cable networks said they submitted a brief in the 6th Circuit supporting NCTA's stay request.

In their brief, the programmers argued that the FCC's rules would result in “displacing and damaging a diverse array of existing national cable programming networks that have competed over many years to earn carriage on cable systems by building their customer bases on sound economic foundations.”

NCTA and the programmers insist the FCC's leased access rate formula in many cases yields no revenue, violating the provision in federal law that says leased access rates should not “adversely affect the operation, financial condition or market development of the cable system.”

Verizon Communications, a traditional telephone company that has signed up about 1 million customers to its FiOS TV video product, also decided to take the FCC to court over leased access rates.

The new leased access rates take effect on May 31.

The FCC never responded to NCTA's stay request.

“I supported those rules and I think we should let them take effect,” FCC chairman Kevin Martin told reporters in late April.

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