FCC lifts ban on exclusive cable channels

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The order allows the FCC to continue to review video distribution agreements on a case-by-case basis.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), one of the authors of the Cable Act, said it is unclear whether the case-by-case review process "will provide consumers with the level of protection that is still needed in the video distribution marketplace." He said he will work with the FCC to ensure that the decision "does not tilt the playing field against consumers and choice.” 

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC, said he is reviewing the decision carefully.

"I appreciate that the FCC has put into place a process by which individual complaints can be brought against cable companies that lock up their programming," he said. "But if this new process does not deter anticompetitive behavior that harms consumers, Congress will need to consider whether it should restore appropriate safeguards.”

Part of the concern stems from the fear that a cable company like Comcast could block its competitors' access to NBC news and sports channels. 

But FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the decision "enables the FCC to continue preventing anticompetitive video distribution arrangements through a legally sustainable, expeditious, case-by-case review.”

The commission may have had little choice but to allow the rules to expire. Judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in 2007 that they anticipated that by 2012, the rules would no longer be justified.