WASHINGTON — A federal court has ordered the FCC to respond by March 23 on whether it intends to act on a longstanding petition calling for repeal of the primetime access rule.

The order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit raises the likelihood that the Federal Communications Commission will be forced to consider altering PTAR before year-end.

PTAR, a sister regulation of the finsyn rules, requires network affiliates in the top 50 markets to set aside an hour of primetime for non-network programs.

The D.C. Court’s order was prompted by the FCC’s lack of action on a complaint filed in April 1990 by First Media L.P., the owner of CBS affiliate WCPX-TV, Orlando. First Media asked the FCC to jettison PTAR, claiming the rule violates its First Amendment right to program whatever it wants in access.

Battle anticipated

D.C. observers expect a massive lobbying battle to erupt if the FCC proposes changes in PTAR. The Big Three networks support modification of the reg, while independents (including Fox Broadcasting) support full retention.

Hollywood studios with successful firstrun syndication offerings favor keeping PTAR in entirety; the Walt Disney Co. has asked the FCC to change the reg to allow network affils in the top 50 markets to air web reruns in access.

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