The cable industry is livid today over a new FCC order that makes it harder for pay TV distributors to mess around with independently owned channels. Regulators clarified the rules of engagement called for by the 1992 Cable Act to resolve contract disputes that channels have with cable and satellite companies. One provision particularly infuriates cable: The FCC says channels can’t be interrupted during a fight; for example, Cablevision customers lost Food Network and HGTV in early 2010 when Scripps wanted to raise the price for its services. A standstill order would keep existing contract terms in place while the FCC resolves the matter. The agency particularly wants to prevent cable operators from using their near-monopoly power in TV distribution to favor channels that they own — or extort channel owners to sell equity in order to guarantee carriage. Public interest advocates welcome the change. “This will promote diversity in cable TV offerings by insuring that independent cable channels have a shot at getting carriage on large cable systems” says Media Access Project policy director Andrew Jay Schwartzman. But former FCC Chairman Michael Powell — now CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association — says the order shows “little regard for the limits of agency authority or constitutional rights, and a disturbing lack of appreciation of the potential impact of government intervention on consumers or the marketplace.” The lobby group says that it will “explore other avenues for redress.”
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