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FCC takes on cable's terrestrial loophole, which keeps sports shows from competitors

The Federal Communications Commission is moving to prevent cable operators from withholding local broadcasts of sports events from other providers of television services, including satellite and telecom companies.

That means, Dish Network customers, for example, couldn't be deprived of Philadelphia sports games owned by Comcast. And AT&T U-Verse customers would get access to San Diego Padres games, that competitors complain have been withheld from their program lineups by Cox.

The FCC's media bureau is expected to circulate an order on Wednesday for vote by all five commissioners, an FCC official said.

Known as the "terrestrial loophole," cable companies have been able to withhold such programming, despite laws that require them to share content with competitors, because of language in the 1992 cable television act that specified the program access obligations as being designed for satellite feeds. The cable companies began getting those local broadcasts delivered via cable lines -- or terrestrial feeds -- and argued that such programs were exempt from the rules.

The order comes before the FCC takes on its review of Comcast's merger with NBC Universal. Ben Scott, of public interest group Free Press said the timing shows the agency wants to take the contentious issue of the terrestrial loophole off the table ahead of the merger review, showing the FCC is willing to be tough in its scrutiny of the $30 billion mega entertainment merger.

"If they did deal with this in the merger, it would be Comcast specific only and not the entire industry," Scott said. "And it's a strong statement about nondiscrimination across communications law because while the commission is arguing for nondiscrimination on net neutrality they are also doing so on cable television."

Dish Network chief executive Charlie Ergen brought up the terrestrial loophole concerns when discussing his concerns that Comcast's merger with NBC could give the nation's largest cable operator too much control over television content. Check out this earlier post and Comcast's response.

By Cecilia Kang  |  December 15, 2009; 3:17 PM ET
Categories:  AT&T , Comcast , Verizon  
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Good news for sports fans.

Now the question is whether the FCC will also uphold a year-old ruling by the Media Bureau to require Time Warner to carry regional sports programming in North Carolina.

Posted by: JoeBagadonuts | December 15, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

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