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Lawmakers Fume at Cablers

Apr 10, 2006  •  Post A Comment

In a shot across the cable TV industry’s bow, top Senate Commerce Committee members last week blasted what they view as the anti-consumer practice of cable TV operators denying competitors access to regional sports networks.

“There ought to be access by the public to sports programming,” said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the committee’s chairman, during a hallway interview with reporters.

Added Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the committee’s ranking minority member: “If there is such a thing as an American way of life, sports is part of that.”

In an April 4 letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, Sen. Stevens and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., also asked the agency to consider conditioning Comcast and Time Warner’s acquisition of Adelphia Communications to ensure that the cable companies didn’t use “exclusive contracts” for regional sports programming to “unfairly impede competition.”

Under provisions in the 1992 Cable TV Act, cable TV operators have to make the programming they distribute by satellite available to competitors, including satellite TV operators and telephone companies.

But under a loophole in the legislation, cable TV programming that operators distribute terrestrially over fiber-optic networks does not have to be made available to competitors-and Comcast and other cable TV operators have been increasing their use of terrestrial delivery for important sports programming in their communities in recent years.

In his remarks to reporters last week, Sen. Stevens said: “This idea that someone can contract and get an exclusive right and shut [those who don’t subscribe to the cable TV system that controls the sports rights] out to me means, well, then maybe they shouldn’t have any rights at all to be involved in the broadcasting business or the programming business. We cannot allow that to happen. It [sports programming has] got to be available.”