By a 4-1 margin, the FCC voted on Wednesday to close a loophole in the agency’s cable program access rules that enables cable TV operators to withhold from competitors regional sports network and other programming that is delivered over land-based connections instead of by satellite. The FCC’s action closes the “terrestrial loophole,” which is a byproduct of the 1992 Cable Act and has been targetted by direct broadcast satellite operators and IPTV providers that have been denied access to cable-affiliated regional sports networks. Observing that Wednesday’s ruling “promotes competition . . . and empowers consumers,” the FCC concluded that its authority to close the terrestrial loophole derives from Section 628(b) of the Communications Act, which bars cable operators from engaging “in unfair methods of competition or unfair or deceptive acts” that are intended “to hinder significantly or to prevent any multichannel video programming distributor from providing satellite cable programming or satellite broadcast programming to subscribers.” As such, the majority adopted a rebuttable presumption that denial of competitive access to terrestrially-delivered, cable affiliated regional sports programming “has the purpose or effect set forth in Section 628(b).” The order also “establishes procedures for the Commission’s consideration of requests for a temporary standstill of the price, terms, and other conditions of an existing programming contract by a program access complainant seeking renewal of such a contract.” Applauding the decision, DISH Network proclaimed that “consumers can no longer be held hostage during a contract dispute between cable programmers and video distributors.” Although FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski observed that the ruling “represents a major step toward realizing the promise of a competitive marketplace for video services,” Commissioner Robert McDowell—the lone dissenter—warned of potential legal challenges. Stressing that Section 628(b) targets unfair acts that prevent competitive multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) from offering satellite cable programming (as opposed to programming that is delivered terrestrially), McDowell asserted that the FCC’s goal of promoting MVPD competition does not “trump” the agency’s lack of statutory authority.