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FCC Sunsets Ban on Exclusive Contracts

According to sources, the FCC has voted unanimously to sunset the ban on exclusive contracts between distributors and their co-owned networks, with Commissioner Robert McDowell concurring in part.

The order includes a shot clock on resolving access complaints and the presumption that withholding co-owned regional sports networks is anticompetitive. It is essentially the same as the order FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski circulated two weeks ago.

A separate notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) seeks comment on several proposals by ban supporters, including the American Cable Association, on additional access protections, including rebuttable presumptions that withholding cable-affiliated  national sports networks would also be anticompetitive and about previously challenged exclusive contracts.

There are also questions in the NPRM about whether those rebuttable presumptions should be time and geographically limited.

The commissioners were working on statements at press time and it was unclear when the order would be released.

The NPRM reportedly asks neutral questions -- rather than drawing tentative conclusions about the presumptions --although it does include a tentative conclusion, sought by ACA, that the FCC should redefine "buying group" to allow the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) to file program access complaints without assuming collective liability for all of its members.

John Eggerton
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.