Clyburn Calls for Carriage, Access Rules Inquiry

FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn has called on agency chairman Tom Wheeler to launch an inquiry into the program access and carriage rules and ongoing barriers to independent and diverse programming in the wake of the FCC's decision to approve the AT&T/DirecTV deal.

Those are the rules meant to ensure nondiscriminatory access for distribution outlets to programming and programmers to distribution outlets.

Clyburn voted for the deal and said she believes in the public interest benefits of the conditions and commitments on broadband deployment and affordable stand-alone broadband for lower income residents.

But she said she is concerned with the potential impact of the deal on smaller carriers and independent programmers given that the combined company will have over 25 million video subs.

The American Cable Association, in particular, has expressed concerns about access to  programming and the price of that programming and sought conditions on the deal to protect against possible abuses.

While Clyburn said that the FCC analysis concluded the deal would not demonstrably worsen those "challenges," she said it was time to "reevaluate our program access rules" and their impact on diverse and independent programmers.

Not surprisingly, the American Cable Association was pleased.

"American Cable thanks Commissioner Clyburn for calling on Chairman Wheeler to initiate a proceeding regarding the FCC's program access rules to evaluate their effectiveness and to identify whether there are ways to reform the rules that would provide a level playing field to enable smaller operators to remain competitive in the market," said ACA President Matt Polka in a statement. "If the FCC is going to rely upon the program access rules rather than the ACA's proposed conditions to mitigate the incremental vertical harms to competitors of new AT&T owning four 'must have' regional sports networks, then the rules must work as Congress intended."

ACA called on the FCC to institute reforms ASAP so they could be a "backstop" to the deal, particularly AT&T's ownership of Root Sports Network.

ACA is concerned that the deal will result in higher prices for rivals' access to DirecTV's four owned RSNs, which operate as Root Sports Northwest, Pittsburgh, Rocky Mountain and Southwest, a point it made in comments to the FCC last month.

Similar concerns were raised earlier this month by Houston cable provider enTouch Systems.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.