FCC closes loophole, orders cable companies to share HD sports coverage

The FCC, in a 4-1 vote, said the order would promote competition in the video market, which it has been talking about a lot lately. It will get even more attention when the FCC evaluates the proposed merger of Comcast and NBC Universal later this year.

The FCC will now consider complaints about program access on a case-by-case basis.

Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell was the lone dissenter on the order. He said he is skeptical that the FCC has the authority to make such a big change to the law, which was passed in 1992.

"The better approach would be to seek explicit direction from Congress before taking further action," he said in a statement explaining his position.

AT&T and Verizon cheered the FCC's decision.

"This is a big-time victory for television sports fans," said Kathy Grillo, Verizon's senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs. "This ruling means that consumers will no longer have to stick with their incumbent cable provider in order to watch local teams in high definition."

Verizon recently sponsored an advocacy--the Sports Fans Coaltion--aiming to address this problem. Read my previous story about that here.

Cablevision, on the other hand, said the FCC's decision is unfounded, "despite the phone companies' overwhelming lobbying effort."

"If the phone companies complain that they are unable to compete, we are confident that we can prove that it is for a variety of reasons, none of which have to do with HD sports programming," Cablevision responded.  "Verizon and AT&T do not need a regulatory bailout in order to compete.”