Discovery veteran John Ford joins Ion; Brazil to end limits on cable operator licenses

> Discovery Network veteran John Ford has joined Ion Media Networks as president of programming. He will oversee the creation of original programming as well as program acquisitions, scheduling, creative strategy and positioning. Story

 > U.S. cable operators may be losing customers these days but they are not alone. According to a study by German magazine Focus, the number of German TV households using cable TV has dropped from 57.6 percent in 2005 to 52.7 percent in 2010. At the same time, the number of satellite TV households has grown from 41.0 percent to 45.7 percent and households using digital terrestrial service increased from 9.2 percent to 17.1 percent. IPTV households increased from 3.2 percent in 2007 to 5.4 percent this year. The study also found that 14 million households in Germany still have analog TV  and 62 percent are using digital TV. Story.

> Dish Network spent $190,000 in the third quarter to lobby the federal government on competitor Comcast Corp.'s pending takeover of NBC Universal, according to a disclosure report obtained by the Associated Press. That's down from the $330,000 that Dish Network spent in the 2009 third quarter and less than the $230,000 the company laid out in the second quarter of 2010. Dish Network also lobbied the federal government on rules governing fee disputes between signal providers and broadcasters, according to the report filed on Oct. 19. Story.

> Brazil plans to do away with existing limits on how many cable providers can operate in a region and begin selling an unrestricted number of operating licenses in an effort to boost competition, the country's telecommunications agency said Nov. 25. Anatel, as the agency is known, said it will change current regulations that limit the number of cable providers in a service area. Because there won't be limits on the number of operating licenses, the government will do away with competitive bidding for the licenses, Anatel said on its website. Companies that wish to sell services will now need to pay 9,000 Brazilian reais ($5,240) to operate in a service area. The changes are expected to take place in 2011. The decision comes one day after Anatel eliminated a ban on phone companies offering cable TV service, according to the Dow Jones Newswires. Brazil ended October with 9.4 million pay-TV subscribers, according to Anatel. That includes 4.8 million cable TV customers. More than 7.5 million of the pay TV subscribers are limited to Brazil's wealthy south and southeast regions. Story.

> UTOPIA, a fiber-optic network formed by 16 Utah cities to provide critical telecommunications infrastructure to their residents, wants to drop troubled Colorado-based Prime Time Communications as one of its service providers. Prime Time is one of 17 sanctioned providers of telephone, Internet and interactive-television services to UTOPIA customers but some of those Prime Time customers have been without service for nearly a week in the wake of bankruptcy filings by the company and a sister company, MStar. UTOPIA executive director Todd Marriott declined to say how many customers have been affected. But UTOPIA attorney David Shaw told the Salt Lake Tribune that the two entities owe his client more than $1 million "due to nonpayment of bills," and that makes the company a creditor in the two bankruptcy filings. UTOPIA is seeking permission to drop Prime Time or switch customers to another provider from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Colorado. However, Marriott told the Salt Lake Tribune, customers can initiate a change on their own by contacting UTOPIA for suggestions about other providers. Story.

And finally... Consumers Union is stepping up its opposition today to the proposed $30 billion combination of Comcast and NBC Universal with a new ad campaign that calls for the deal to be blocked. The non-profit will canvass Washington, D.C., this week with a 10x22 foot "mobile" billboard featuring an image of a boa constrictor that resembles a TV cable and the tagline: "Don't Constrict Choice - Reject the Comcast Buyout of NBC." The ad campaign also features a new website, SayNoToComcastNBC.com, that gives visitors the ability to contact the FCC about the pending transaction. Story.

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