Cable companies are no longer required to sell the cable channels they own to competitors, such as satellite broadcasters, following a decision today by the Federal Communications Commission that allowed program access rules to expire. Until now, cable companies have been required to sell the must-have channels to competitors on reasonable terms. Now, competitors will have to file individual complaints if they feel a cable operator is unfairly denying access. DirecTV, Dish Network, AT&T and Verizon Communications are among those who had urged the FCC to extend the rule, the Wall Street Journal reports. Google agreed, arguing that large cable companies have an incentive to block access to regional sports channels to stifle competition. Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other large cable operators disagreed, saying the rules had become obsolete now that the pay-TV market had become more competitive. American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew M. Polka issued the following statement in response to the decision.

“ACA is disappointed that the FCC decided to permit the prohibition on exclusive contracts to sunset, but it appreciates the FCC’s willingness to adopt some modifications to the Section 628(b) unfair practices complaint process to make it less burdensome for multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs).

“In particular, the FCC established a rebuttable presumption that an exclusive contract for a cable-affiliated, satellite-delivered regional sports network (RSN) would significantly hinder the ability of an MVPD to provide a competitive service without such programming. ACA is also pleased that the FCC made clear that a selective refusal to deal, particularly with regard to cable overbuilders and new entrants, can be a violation of the program access rules’ prohibition on discrimination.

“Although ACA thinks the outcome is less than ideal, ACA is hopeful that the FCC’s confidence in the functionality of the section 628(b) process, along with its additional safeguards concerning exclusive contracts, will send a strong signal to cable-affiliated programmers to not even attempt exclusive deals for must-have programming — whether it be RSNs or highly rated national cable networks — because the process will always lead to a finding that these deals are unfair and harm consumers and competition.

“ACA also greatly appreciates the FCC’s adoption of a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) to consider proposals put forth by ACA on ways to ensure that the program access rules may be effectively utilized by a buying group, such as the National Cable Television Cooperative.

Likewise, ACA is very pleased that the further notice will consider another ACA suggestion on whether to establish a rebuttable presumption for exclusive deals for national cable-affiliated networks that carry a minimum amount of sporting events, and other modifications that will make the Section 628(b) process work better for MVPDs, particularly smaller operators and new entrants. ACA looks forward to participating in this further rulemaking and is hoping for expeditious action.”