Dutch regulators issue equal-access guidelines

Rules upset Euro cablers

AMSTERDAM — Dutch telecommunications watchdog OPTA and antitrust agency the Netherlands Media Authority (NMA) have issued cable guidelines that could upset the plans of United Pan-Europe Communications subsidiary A2000 and other cable companies preparing to launch their own channels.

OPTA has ruled that cable companies in Holland must allow all providers of television and radio channels equal access to cable lines.

“The guidelines mean that cable companies must allow a level playing field to occur,” OPTA spokesman Alex van Kalken told Daily Variety. He added cable companies must provide access to any channel that wants to broadcast over their lines and that they “cannot show more bias for their own channels than for other content providers.”

Fair fees

The guidelines also specify that fees charged to programmers or channels must be “cost-oriented rates.” Said Van Kalken, “That means they must be relevant to the cost plus a reasonable profit.”

That specification goes to the heart of what has been a bitter feud between broadcasters and A2000 over carriage rates. Many of the Dutch broadcasters have taken A2000 to court over what they have charged are exorbitant rates not relevant to actual cost of carriage.

Several international channels like CNN and MTV have protested against the rates by temporarily going off the air.

It is not known how the decision will affect plans of cable companies like A2000 if any content provider can gain access. Several have plans to offer a basic service package at a low rate and packages of additional channels at a higher rate.

How much teeth?

The guidelines are not binding, but in a dispute between a cable company and a programmer, OPTA will serve as an arbitrator, and its decision is clearly intended to be binding.

Some idea of how much teeth OPTA really has is likely to be seen on Aug. 31, when a decision recently handed down by OPTA against A2000 in favor of Canal Plus Netherlands over digital transmission and carriage rates will be heard on appeal in a Dutch court.

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