In Nov, the FCC scuttled plans to vote on strengthening its program access rules. While Hallmark Channel —a programmer who had supported the FCC revamp—has completed deals in the wake of the FCC not taking up program access, another— WealthTV —has opted to file program access complaints against 4 major cable operators. Another supporter of FCC changes, NFL Net, has given Comcast notice that it plans to file a complaint against it any day now. Critics argue that the FCC’s program access process is broken, with only 2 cases actually making through the entire process (the most recent was MASN). Last week, the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture informed the FCC that it’s been more than 120 days since WealthTV filed its complaint against Time Warner Cable, and nothing has been done. When the FCC didn’t change the process, it gave everyone a chance to "see if the system works," said Media Access Project‘s Harold Feld, who is representing NAMAC. "If the notion is that this is supposed to provide quick relief, we’re now at a point where we can say that the current relief [isn’t working]." NAMAC, an advocate for independent film, video, audio and digital arts organizations, believes that the FCC has the authority without implementing a rulemaking to impose certain internal procedural reforms, such as a voluntary "shot clock." Such a clock is in place for mergers, with the FCC striving to act on mergers within 180 days, but often going over the internal goal (remember Adelphia?). NAMAC also supports the FCC eliminating a provision that requires those filing to complaints to prove their case isn’t frivolous before it goes to an administrative law judge, saying the burden of proof is very high. Instead, let the judge determine if the complaint is frivolous and fine programmers who file such complaints, Feld said. Cable argues that doing away with the provision would be too costly for distributors and could result in a fishing expedition, where complainants could delve into existing sensitive contracts. The cable industry maintains that there’s no reason to expand the program access rules when video competition is growing, and Cablevision‘s even suggested eliminating the rules in markets where a cable op can prove it faces substantial competition. So, why is program access getting attention again? It’s probably because Martin’s days as chmn are somewhat limited. FCC watchers expect he’ll push to get most big reform done by July or Aug, with a bit of quiet period ensuing as everyone waits to see who wins the presidential race. So, expect to hear more on it in the coming months, especially once NFL Net’s complaint is filed.

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