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Programmers Get More Time to Fight FCC's A la Carte Proposal

Washington – Major cable programming suppliers on Wednesday received additional time to prepare their attack on a Federal Communications Commission proposal to permit cable and satellite distributors to purchase channels on an a la carte basis from programming vendors.

Responding to requests for more time from Disney, Viacom Fox, and NBC Universal, the FCC’s Media Bureau agreed to move the due date for initial comments from Nov. 30 to Jan. 4, 2008 and reply comments from Dec. 17 to Jan. 22, 2008.

In general, the Big Four sought more time because they said the issues were complex; their experts needed to prepare studies; FCC issues overlapped with issue presented in a class action law suit on retail a la carte; and the holiday season caused scheduling problems.

“The [FCC] policy is that extensions of time for filing comments in rulemaking proceedings shall not be routinely granted. In this case, however, an extension of the comment and reply comment period is warranted to enable commenters to gather sufficient data, including economic analyses, to facilitate the development of a thorough record in response to the issues raised in the notice [of proposed rulemaking],” the FCC said.

The TV programmers had wanted each deadline extended by 45 days but the FCC refused, granting just 35 days, which will be effectively shortened by several days due to days off around the holidays.

“With the additional extension granted herein, interested parties will now have a total of 65 days to prepare comments. We believe that this provides parties with ample time to respond to the issues raised in the notice,” the FCC said.

The Big Four networks are expected to unleash a strong attack on FCC chairman Kevin Martin’s effort to introduce a “wholesale a la carte” model into the cable programming acquisition market. The FCC’s proposal did not indicate the agency would seek to regulate wholesale a la carte prices to ensure that high per-channel rates did not undermine the intent of the FCC regulation.