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FCC Moves to Close Sports Loophole

WASHINGTON: DirecTV and Dish could be getting a hold of sports programming previously unavailable to the satellite TV operators. A proposal is said to be circulating at the FCC that would close a loophole allowing cable companies that own regional sports rights to withhold coverage from competing carriers. The dodge comes from a 1992 programming access law that compels cable companies to provide programming they own to other pay TV operators, though it covers only programming transmitted via satellite. Hence, regional sports programming, which is transmitted terrestrially, is exempt.

E.g., in San Diego, Calif., for example, Cox controls pay TV distribution of Padres baseball games. AT&T filed a complaint with the FCC against Cox last year for not allowing its Uverse TV service to carry the Padres, The Wall Street Journal said.

DirecTV’s Susan Eid issued a statement in support of the FCC’s proposal, saying that Comcast was stifling competition from satellite. Cable operators in turn have criticized DirecTV for its exclusivity contract with the National Football League for the satellite service’s Sunday Ticket, a premium service for watching out-of-market games.

Comcast owns the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, the AHL’s Phantoms and the local NBA, the 76ers. Their home games are exclusive to Comcast’s systems, as are the games of the MLB’s Phillies.

(Image by Vincent J. Brown)