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Utility Group Passes Content Neutrality Resolution Utility Group Passes Content Neutrality Resolution

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Congress

Utility Group Passes Content Neutrality Resolution

February 16, 2011

As Congress continues to battle over efforts to implement net neutrality rules, a group of state utility regulators Wednesday approved a resolution calling on the Federal Communications Commission to examine the issue of "content neutrality" to ensure all multichannel video programming providers have equal access to content at a fair price.

At its winter meeting, the board of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners approved the resolution, which voices concern about the ability of smaller and mid-sized cable firms to obtain access to programming at a fair price.

The resolution notes that in "recent years the transfer of networks from large to mid-sized carriers has been followed, in some areas, by significant increases which [have] been attributed, in whole or in part, to wholesale price increases sought from those small to mid-sized carriers."

The resolution also referenced progress made on the issue of content neutrality as a result of the conditions imposed on Comcast's merger with NBC Universal. Critics of that merger voiced concern about the ability of both cable and emerging online video providers to gain access to Comcast-NBCU content.

The NARUC resolution noted that while such conditions helped "to provide non-discriminatory access to content in some settings, [it] has not dealt more broadly with the availability and potentially discriminatory pricing of content which disadvantages small and mid-sized [local exchange carriers] and comparable small and medium-sized cable providers."

As a result, the group urged the FCC to refer the matter to a committee set up following passage of the 1996 telecommunications act that provides a forum for state utility regulators and federal officials to work together on ways to implement a section of that law aimed at encouraging the "reasonable and timely deployment of advanced telecommunications capability" for all Americans.

The final version of the resolution was not as strong as a draft measure that urged the FCC to "take appropriate action to rebalance the 'competitive playing field' to assure the ability of residents in small and rural markets to obtain the benefit of robust broadband is not impaired."

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