Settlement Loosens Cable Monopoly

SEVEN cable giants reached an agreement with 40 states settling charges that they sought to thwart new television technologies - like wireless cable - by restricting access to popular cable programming.

"They were using their monopoly position in a bludgeoning way," said New York Attorney General Robert Abrams in Wednesday's announcement.

But lawyers for the cable companies said the settlement virtually duplicates a federal law and that their business practices already meet the requirements of the settlement.

"The bottom line is it isn't very different from the cable act passed in October 1992," said Robert Joffe, attorney for Time Warner, the owner of the nation's second-largest cable company.

Rivalry between the major cable companies and their newer-technology competitors led to a cable-television regulatory bill that Congress enacted last October. It requires cable companies to provide their competitors equal access to popular programming.

Mr. Abrams said the settlement imposes tougher provisions. It seeks to make popular programming, much of which is owned by the cable giants, equally available to companies that use new, noncable technologies.

Among the programming controlled by the companies is Cable News Network, Turner Network Television, Showtime, HBO, the Discovery Channel, MTV, and VH-1.

Equal access will mean more competition, Abrams said, and, for consumers, that will mean better and more TV service at lower prices. He expects all 50 states to eventually sign the settlement, which also requires that the companies pay $4.75 million in settlement costs.

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