FCC to Cablecos: Share the Sports Programming

Cable operators no longer can withhold local sports channels from competitors.

The FCC on Wednesday voted 4-1 to close what’s been termed the “terrestrial loophole” that Comcast Corp., Cablevision Systems Corp. and other cable firms have relied on to keep certain sports programs inaccessible to telco and satellite rivals.

"Consumers who want to switch video providers shouldn't have to give up their favorite team in the process," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said just before the vote.

The FCC’s Cable Act of 1992 barred cablecos from denying access to content provisioned over a satellite feed. But, operators were allowed to deny access if the programming came over terrestrial fiber. That clause has given telco and satellite providers some heartburn. In San Diego, for example, AT&T Inc. couldn’t show the local Padres baseball game because the cable provider controlled the content and wouldn’t share it.

Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell was the lone dissenter in Wednesday’s vote. He said the FCC, unlike Congress, cannot rewrite statutes and that he expects lawsuits from the cable industry.

Also, service providers upset with cable content-blocking must continue to file complaints with the FCC, the agency said.