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FCC nixes program access rules

Genachowski says he'll stay vigilant on discrimination

The FCC unanimously voted Friday to sunset the 20-year-old “program access” rules, which compelled cable operators that own channels to offer them to competing distributors.

But in a statement accompanying the decision, FCC commissioner Julius Genachowski made clear the spirit of the rules will live on. “Today’s unanimous decision enables the FCC to continue preventing anti-competitive video distribution arrangements through a legally sustainable, expeditious, case-by-case review,” he said.

In its ruling, the FCC commissioners explained that program access had outlived its usefulness given the viable pay-TV alternatives that now exist in the marketplace between satellite services like DirecTV and telephone companies like Verizon.

But the news may not sit well with Google, which in a FCC filing pertaining to program access last month voiced its dissatisfaction with an unspecified company withholding a regional sports network from Google Fiber, a new combination of broadband and video delivery being tested in Kansas City. Time Warner Cable has since publicly responded that it has offered its RSN in Kansas City to Google but no detal has been reached.

The FCC’s ruling drew disappointment Friday from the American Cable Association, but the organization expressed hoope in a statement that new distributors won’t be blocked.

“ACA is also pleased that the FCC made clear that a selective refusal to deal, particularly with regard to cable overbuilders and new entrants, can be a violation of the program access rules’ prohibition on discrimination.”