Agency rules cabler must share network

SYDNEY — Australia’s dominant cabler, Foxtel, has locked horns with the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, stalling its plan to invest A$500 million ($262 million) to upgrade its network.

The regulatory agency has ruled that Foxtel must grant other broadcasters access to its network. Foxtel argues this would make the cost of switching to digital uneconomic.

Communications Minister Richard Alston says the government will consider giving Foxtel an “access holiday” but has not spelled out how long that might be.

Foxtel’s board met last week under new chairman Sam Chisholm, ex-CEO of BSkyB. Afterwards, an insider told Variety: “The company wants to press on (with the upgrade), but it’s in a quandary. The government is making all sorts of encouraging noises, but the ACCC evidently does not want us to go digital. The ACCC wants to regulate a market before it’s even started. The rest of the world is going digital and analog is an outdated technology.”

In turn, the ACCC argues Foxtel has the opportunity to negotiate what it terms “reasonable prices” with other channel providers.

Jointly owned by Telstra, News Corp. and Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd., Foxtel has more than 744,000 subscribers. In the fiscal year to June 30, PBL booked an after-tax loss of $5.3 million on its 25% stake in Foxtel. However Fox Sports, which is jointly owned by PBL and News Corp., is profitable and growing strongly, according to PBL.

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