WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal regulators are seeking to close a loophole that allows cable TV operators to withhold sporting events and other popular programming that they own from rivals such as satellite ops.

The Federal Communications Commission will consider an order to close the so-called "terrestrial loophole," which allows cable companies to get around access requirements in a 1992 federal cable law by distributing programming over landlines rather than satellite connections.

Cable TV operators including Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications Inc. have relied on the loophole to deny programming to competitors such as DirecTV Inc., EchoStar Corp.'s Dish Network and AT&T’s U-Verse video service.

Comcast, for instance, does not provide its satellite competitors with access to the SportsNet Philadelphia channel, which carries games by the Philadelphia Flyers, Phillies and Sixers. Comcast does provide the channel to RCN Corp., which offers competing cable services in some markets, and Verizon Communications Inc., which provides TV and Internet services through FiOS.

The FCC staff has prepared an order to eliminate the loophole and plans to send it to the agency's five commissioners on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear when the commissioners will vote on the order.

The order comes as the Commission begins its regulatory review of Comcast's proposal to buy a controlling stake in NBC Universal from General Electric Co. Although the two matters are separate, some analysts expect the FCC to close the terrestrial loophole for Comcast as a condition of regulatory approval for that deal.

More Broadband Direct 12/15/09:
•  Comcast's online video service launches
•  CE biggies back yet another networking scheme
•  FCC seeking to close programming access loophole
•  TWC ratchets up 'Get Tough' initiative with new ads
•  Verizon taps into Wi-Fi hotspot network
•  Nexus One gets FCC OK on GSM bands
•  Verizon debuts self-help tool for video service
•  Dinallo joins ADB
•  Best Buy's Q3 profit up; co. sees slimmer margins
•  Samsung Electronics shuffles management team
•  AT&T, labor union reach tentative contract deal
•  Broadband Briefs for 12/15/09