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FCC warns cablers to sell to satcasters, telcos

WASHINGTON — In its ongoing effort to spur competition to the cable industry, the Federal Communications Commission said Thursday that it would begin fining programmers who failed to make their product available to cable’s fledgling rivals: satcasters and telcos.

The FCC also voted to reaffirm its authority to impose damages if a programmer is found guilty of refusing to sell its product to cable competitors.

FCC Chairman Bill Kennard said the decision was aimed at “helping the DBS industry in particular in getting a foothold.”

The DBS industry was quick to praise the FCC action. “We have been advocating for damages for a long time and we think it’s a great move,” said Karen Watson, EchoStar’s Washington rep.

Unwarranted action?

Cablers were quick to criticize the FCC’s actions as unwarranted. “There’s no evidence to suggest that more government is needed,” said National Cable Television Assn. president Decker Anstrom. “The record is clear that cable’s competitors already have access to virtually all of the most popular cable program services. And in only a handful of cases has the FCC found it necessary to take action under its current rules.”

During the past two years DBS companies and telcos including Ameritech New Media have filed a handful of program access complaints against cablers that claimed programmers were breaking FCC regulations by signing exclusive deals with cable systems.

But in a setback for cable challengers, the FCC refused to expand its rules to allow satcasters and telcos expanded access to program contracts. Satcasters and telcos wanted more access to the internal documents to bolster their claims.

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