Appeals Court says cable operators have to share programming

Once again, cable operators have been told to share their exclusive sports rights with other service providers. This time a Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Court of Appeals, in a 3-0 decision, said that the FCC can tell cable operators to share the wealth of local sports programming.

The decision directly impacts Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA), which has withheld its SportsNet professional teams' coverage from DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) and Dish Network (Nasdaq: DISH); and Cablevision Systems (NYSE: CVC), which is in a similar dust-up with AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ).

Showing their sports knowledge, the judges pointed to the "serious disadvantage" of not being able to show the Philadelphia Phillies in the Philadelphia market. "We doubt that Philadelphia baseball fans would switch if doing so would mean they could no longer watch Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels take the mound," Judge David Tatel wrote in the 48-page court opinion.

The decision may finally close the so-called "terrestrial loophole" that said cable operators did not need to share programming if it was transmitted within a franchise area either over microwave or direct wireline links but not via satellite.

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