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GOP Reps. Express Concerns About FCC Program Carriage Rule Decision

Top House Energy and Commerce Committee members have joined with over 30 other Republican legislators to ask the Federal Communications Commission not to take an "expansive interpretation" of program carriage rules.

In a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski on Monday, the legislators, led by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Communications Subcommittee chair Greg Walden (R-Ore.), said cable operators must be free to make reasonable business decisions about what to carry and where to put it.

The FCC stayed enforcement and is reviewing the Administrative Law Judge's decision that Comcast violated program carriage rules in its tier placement of Tennis Channel. The decision is being reviewed by the commission because of its precedential weight for any future such decisions. Genachowski wants a full-commission vote on issues raised in Tennis Channel and Comcast petitions relating to the decision.

In their letter Monday, the legislators did not cite the Tennis Channel complaint, but it was clearly on their minds. "The FCC's recent interpretation of the program carriage rules...could be read to enable programmers effectively to force their way onto a cable operator's system by merely alleging that their programming is similar enough to the operator's affiliated programming, rather than showing that there has been anticompetitive discrimination," something Comcast has expressed concern about.

They say it is consumers who will bear the brunt of what they call a broad expansion of program carriage rules, an expansion of rules they say have "outlived their purpose" when they were first adopted as part of the 1992 Cable Act.

"Cable operators need the flexibility to respond, or risk losing their consumers," they wrote. "They also should not be forced to spend millions of dollars defending against groundless allegations."

Other signatories to the letter included House E&C subcommittee Chairs Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), Mary Bono Mack (R-Fla.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky).

The letter comes as the Senate Commerce Committee is holding a hearing Sept. 24 to review those and other provisions of the Act.