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OMB Approves Processing Aspects of FCC's Terrestrial Exemption

Related: Cox Will Give AT&T, Others Access To Padres Games

FCC sources confirm that the Office of Management and Budget has approved the three portions of the FCC's terrestrial exemption decision that required vetting under the Paperwork Reduction Act. That means the FCC can start dealing with complaints under the rule change as soon as those portions are published in the Federal Register.

The commission voted in January to scrap that exemption and create the rebuttable presumption that MSO's who do not allow nondiscriminatory access to co-owned terrestrial nets are violating access mandates that previously had been interpreted as applying only to satellite-delivered nets.

The three elements of that decesion that just got approved are the ones that deal with the filing and processing of program access complaints. The rule change had gone into effect April 2, but the FCC's ability to deal with complaints based on the change have not taken effect awaiting OMB approval and publication in the Federal Register. With that approval now secured, various sources say that publication should come in the next few days.

OMB has to vet any information collection requirements in new rules or rule changes to make sure they are not overly burdensome in the dead tree--or virtual dead tree--department. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association had filed a letter with OMB pointing to the paperwork burdens of the changes, but that was rejected.

In light of the rule change, AT&T had asked the FCC to review an earlier complaint against Cox over access to its terrestrially delivered San Diego net, Channel 4, which carries the San Diego Padres games. But that complaint is likely moot since Cox several weeks ago informed AT&T, DISH and DirecTV that the channel was available for carriage.

Cox spokesman Todd Smith said that the rule change is partly behind the decision to make it available, but that it was not timed to coincide with the OMB approval.

Comcast has taken some heat over its terrestrially-delivered net in Philly. "[W]e have no changes to the distribution of Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia to announce," said a spokesperson. "We are not challenging the FCC rule and plan to address any complaints if and when they are filed."

In fact, when announcing the FCC's decision in January, the FCC also signaled it had in mind sports nets in San Diego, Philadelphia and New York.

AT&T filed a complaint against Cablevision last year over access to its HD programming--Cablevision has challenged the FCC's terrestrial exemption decision in court. Part of that exemption decision was that MVPDs will not be able to deliver a standard-definition version of a regional sports network and withhold the HD version as a way of complying with access requirements. The HD version is treated as a separate service for purposes of filing program access complaints.