Powell Commits to Program-Access Review


Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell has promised the
Senate that he will launch a review of cable program-access rules later this
year, but he gave no indication whether he wants the rules abolished.

Powell made the commitment in response to written questions submitted to him
by several senators in connection with his nomination for a second five-year
term at the FCC.

Since 1992, cable operators that own satellite-delivered networks are
required to sell to competitors. The provision expires Oct. 5, 2002, if not
extended by the FCC.

The program-access question was put to Powell by Senate Commerce Committee
chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who asked whether 'exclusive contracts by
vertically integrated entities -- especially for sports programming -- can stop
competitors in their tracks as they attempt to enter new markets.'

Although Powell sidestepped the substance of the question, he explained that
the FCC had an obligation to determine whether the rules were necessary to
protect competition. The review, he added, would begin 'during the latter part
of 2001.'

The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to vote on Powell's nomination
Thursday morning along with the FCC nominations of Republicans Kevin Martin and
Kathleen Abernathy and Democrat Michael Copps.

Powell has spoken forcefully that the FCC needs to abolish outdated
media-ownership rules. But in April, he indicated that the program-access rules
may not have outlived their utility.