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Comcast and Its Critics Face Off
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Post Comcast and Its Critics Face Off - 20-February-2010, 07:23

Comcast and Its Critics Face Off
Comcast says it won't challenge FCC narrowing or closing of terrestrial exemption
By John Eggerton -- 2/19/2010 11:59:06 AM
A coalition of Comcast/NBCU deal critics has asked Comcast to withdraw its support from a Cablevision court challenge to the program access rules. The companies promised to abide by those rules and voluntarily extend them to retransmission consent negotiations as well, regardless of the outcome of the court case if the companies are allowed to merge some of their operations.

Comcast says it isn't opposing the access rules, and has no plans to challenge the FCC's recent ruling narrowing/closing the so-called terrestrial exemption.

The program access rules require a vertically integrated company--with both content production and distribution businesses--to make the programming and/or networks in which they have a financial interest accessible to competitors on nondiscriminatory terms and conditions.

Comcast and NBCU made that pledge two weeks ago at Hill hearings on their proposed $30 billion joint venture. The D.C. Circuit could come out with a decision any day on the program access rules.

In a letter to Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts, a dozen groups including Media Access Project, Consumer Federation, Free Press, Public Knowledge, the Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association and the American Cable Association, called it "highly unusual that Comcast would continue to spend shareholder dollars to overturn an FCC regulation that it has promised to follow regardless of the case's outcome."

In a separate statement, Free Press said: "Conspicuously absent from Comcast-NBCU's list of promises was any acknowledgement that Comcast is at the same time asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to toss out the most meaningful feature of the program access rules: The ban on exclusive contracts between cable operators and affiliated cable networks delivered via satellite."

"Free Press appears to be confused," said Comcast spokesperson Sena Fitzmaurice. "We have challenged only the FCC's extension of the rule that prohibits cable companies from entering into exclusive contracts that better enable them to compete with satellite companies who have exclusive content like NFL Sunday Ticket. If Free Press really wants to help consumers and ensure a level playing field, they will join us in calling for an end to DirecTV's exclusive control of NFL Sunday Ticket. "

"We did not challenge the rule that ensures that cable-affiliated programmers must charge fair and non-discriminatory rates to competing cable, satellite and phone companies in that case," said Fitzmaurice in an e-mailed statement. "We do and will abide by those rules.

Free Press also said they were worried Comcast would take aim at a recent FCC decision narrowing or closing the terrestrial exemption and potentially subjecting terrestrially-delivered program networks to the same kind of access requirements on satellite-delivered nets, or at least held that satellite delivery did not insulate those nets from claims of unfairly withholding access. "It remains to be seen whether Comcast will also challenge the FCC's newly adopted regulations closing the so-called terrestrial loophole in the program access rules," said Free Press.

"As to the FCC's recent decision that may permit competitors under certain circumstances to seek access to terrestrially delivered cable content," said Fitzmaurice, "We have no plans to challenge that ruling--we will address any complaints if and when they are filed, but we have almost no terrestrially-delivered content outside of our Philadelphia sports network."
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