Court: Cable Can’t Keep All the Good Stuff

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled today that cable companies can’t withhold programming from competitors, affirming rules put in place by the FCC to guarantee fair competition amongst pay TV service providers, according to a BusinessWeek report. Comcast and Cablevision had challenged these rules in court; today’s rejection of this challenge marks an important victory not only for smaller cable and satellite TV providers, but also for IPTV services like Verizon’s FIOS TV.

The court decision is also likely to have an impact on the proposed merger between Comcast and NBC, which has come under increased scrutiny by law makers and the FCC alike.

A merger between the broadcaster and the cable giant would put Comcast in control of programs like NBC’s Nightly News as well as its exclusive coverage of sport events like the Olympics. Comcast would have been able to restrict Olympics programming to Comcast subscribers if the court had sided with the cable companies. In fact, Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Khoury specifically complained that satellite providers currently have the right to offer exclusive access to sports events like NFL Sunday Ticket and NASCAR Hot Pass, in a news release put out in reaction to the ruling.

Both the FCC and Free Press have hailed the decision, with the advocacy group cautiously adding that the current rules are only in place until 2012. Cable companies have repeatedly lamented that current regulations are in many cases restricted to their companies while satellite and IPTV providers have been given much more leeway. Of course, cable hopes that restrictions like the one that prevailed in court today will eventually be nixed across the board, but one could also argue that the FCC will have to come up with a whole new framework of regulations to include not only IPTV, but over-the-top providers who have been longing for access to programming for some time.

Related content on GigaOm Pro: Why Apple Could Be a Loser In The Comcast-NBC Deal (subscription required)

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