Oz feevees battle over broadband

ACCC declares Telstra's cable open to other parties

SYDNEY — After a few months of respite from relentless lawsuits, Australia’s troublesome feevee sector looks set for another bruising round of legal skirmishes.

The latest tussle involves Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Packer, Kerry Stokes, public telco Telstra and anti-trust body the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

At issue is access to Telstra’s $2.5 billion broadband cable, which was built with taxpayers’ funds and, until now, has been used exclusively by leading feevee operator Foxtel.

Half-owned by Telstra, Foxtel also has Packer and Murdoch’s News Corp. as 25% shareholders, with the latter managing the service.

Late last week, the ACCC declared Telstra’s cable open to other parties, which prompted applications on Monday from Mike Boulos’ ethnic feevee outfit TARBS and Kerry Stokes’ Seven Network for carriage on Telstra/Foxtel’s cable.

Seven says the ACCC decision requires Telstra to “make available its transmission systems, subscriber management systems and set-top boxes at a fair and commercial price to independent operators.”

Not surprisingly, Telstra and Foxtel don’t see it that way, saying “this decision does nothing to change the exclusive commercial agreements between Telstra and Foxtel for pay TV” because their 1995 pact pre-dates the regulatory regime the ACCC is seeking to enforce.

ACCC chairman Allan Fels said his decision was prompted by a concern that “owners of pay TV cable could block access to services which competed with their fully or partly owned retail services or channels, leading to a narrower range of programming being made available to consumers.”