Competitive service providers get a break on RSNs as cable access rules expire

The FCC may or may not have opened a can of competitive worms when it failed to renew rules requiring cable operators to share programming with their competitors. But, according to the fine print in the decision, the commissioners made sure the changes won't impact the rights of citizens to watch sports on whatever service they want.

"We are pleased to see that the FCC… acknowledged that regional sports networks [RSNs] are important both for consumers and in the marketplace," Verizon (NYSE: VZ) FiOS spokesman Ed McFadden told TheWrap.

Those sentiments were echoed by John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney for Public Knowledge, who issued a statement that the approach to RSNs "at least shows that it [FCC] still recognizes that incumbent cable systems have an incentive to use programming for anti-competitive ends."

Actually, cable systems have been hoarding sports content for years, creating and using their own RSNs to dominate local markets and to control local sports programming from professional and college teams. Thus, when the FCC announced it would sunset regulations that required cable operators to share their programming, the reaction was that this gave cable operators carte blanche to use sports as a competitive lever.

Not so, according to the federal agency, which added caveats that it would consider complaints from providers who felt they were being denied "important cable TV programming" (sports) and "the burden would be on cable operators to justify withholding their regional sports networks from telcos, satellite TV operators and other cable systems in their service areas," TheWrap story said.

The goal is to "continue presenting anticompetitive video distribution arrangements through a legally sustainable, expeditious, case-by-case review," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a prepared statement.

For more:
- see this story in TheWrap

Related articles:
FCC program access rules expire
TWC appears to be good sport when it comes to sharing with Google in Kansas City
Local sports programming a big factor for video providers

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