Powell: Need Program-Access Rules


Las Vegas -- Federal Communications Commission chairman Michel Powell
indicated Tuesday that he thinks sound arguments might exist for extending cable
program-access laws beyond October 2002.

Although he had not formed a firm opinion, Powell said extension of the rules
might be necessary to combat cable's market power in the
programming-distribution market.

'I will be somewhat more inclined to look at the merits of that provision
personally,' Powell said at a forum here hosted by investment firm A.G. Edwards
Sons Inc.

Under the 1992 Cable Act, cable operators are required to sell
satellite-delivered networks they own to competing multichannel distributors,
including the direct-broadcast satellite industry -- a cable competitor that
many feel would not exist today absent the rules. Terrestrially delivered
networks and broadcast-affiliated networks are exempt from the rules.

Although the rules expire Oct. 5, 2002, the FCC has the authority to extend
them. In his comments, Powell did not indicate how long he would extend the
rules if he decided it was necessary.

The National Cable Television Association is urging the FCC to allow the
rules to sunset, claiming that the market will ensure DBS access to vital
programming. DBS operators DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp. not
only want the rules retained, but also extended to terrestrially delivered
networks and broadcast-affiliated cable programming.

Powell is skeptical of FCC involvement in the media marketplace, but he said
the program-access rules could represent a limited intrusion designed to prevent
market failure.

'That's far cry from saying that I think the rule must exist. It's just that
I think I can see an argument that has slightly more merit in my mind than many
of the ones people argue,' Powell said.