WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal regulators have closed a wrinkle that has allowed cable TV operators to withhold sporting events and other popular programming that they own from satellite companies and other rivals.

The Federal Communications Commission voted 4-to-1 on Wednesday to eliminate the so-called "terrestrial loophole" in a 1992 federal cable law.

That loophole has enabled companies such as Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp. to circumvent access requirements in the law by distributing programming over land-based rather than satellite connections.

Cable companies have been able to deny programming to competitors such as DirecTV Inc., EchoStar Corp.'s Dish Network, AT&T Inc.'s U-Verse video service and Verizon Communications Inc.'s FiOS video service.

DirecTV, Dish, AT&T and Verizon claim that they have been left out of lucrative markets by incumbent cable operators.

The move comes as the FCC is about to study the proposed JV between Comcast and GE’s NBC Universal.

Here is Matt Polka’s comment on today’s action at the FCC on the program access front.

Matthew Polka, president and CEO of the American Cable Association, said: "Over the years, the American Cable Association has kept a close eye on the availability of terrestrially delivered programming controlled by vertically integrated cable operators. As a general matter, ACA believes that the public interest is best served when multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) have access to all programming on nondiscriminatory terms and conditions.”

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