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FCC Opens TV-Carriage Inquiry

Federal regulators opened an inquiry Tuesday to examine the competitive impact of rules that prevent cable systems from importing network stations from neighboring markets.

Small cable operators are concerned that the inability to provide out-of-market network stations gives the in-market network stations excessive market power in negotiating carriage agreements.

Congress passed a law last December that ordered the Federal Communications Commission to study the impact of four rules and to file a report with the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee by Sept. 8.

Congress was particularly concerned about whether the rules were harming the ability of rural cable to obtain access to digital-broadcast signals and to compete with direct-broadcast satellite carriers.

In Tuesday’s public notice, the FCC requested to receive comments no later than March 1 and reply comments no later than March 16.

The FCC study will review retransmission consent, which allows TV stations to demand payment and other forms of compensation for cable carriage.

The agency will also look at the network-nonduplication rule, which allows a network station to bar a cable system from carrying network programming provided by another network affiliate.

The commission also asked for comment on the syndicated-exclusivity and sports-blackout rules.

Small cable operators are focused on retransmission-consent and network-nonduplication rules. By importing out-of-market network stations, small operators believe that in-market network affiliates of ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox would have less leverage in carriage negotiations.