FCC Extends Ban on Exclusive Programming Contracts

In a victory for the satellite industry and for small cable operators, the FCC added five more years to a rule prohibiting cable companies and programmers from striking exclusive deals that prevent access to content.

The rule, part of the 1992 Cable Act, was designed to foster competition for cable by allowing all providers access to the same programming. The law was scheduled to sunset in October unless the FCC acted.

Republican Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy cast the lone dissenting vote, saying that the rapid growth of satellite services indicated that there was plenty of competition to cable.

"The record does not support a finding that affiliated cable programmers have both the ability and the incentive to withdraw and withhold programming from competing multichannel video programming distributors," she said (emphasis hers). "With respect to new programming, access to this programming by all MVPDs is not vital or even obviously helpful to the twin statutory goals of competition and diversity."

Republican Commissioner Kevin Martin said he supported the five-year extension reluctantly, but said the prohibition against exclusive contracts continues to be necessary.

Cable lobbyists called the rule a "regulatory relic" and argued that the vibrant multichannel marketplace "assures that the vast majority of programming, whether owned by a cable operator or not, would be available to all distributors."