The cable industry was spotlighted in a pair of orders adopted Wednesday by the FCC, which voted to ban exclusive cable access arrangements that cover apartment buildings as it extended to cable operators some of the franchising relief accorded to competitive video service providers last year. By allowing owners of multi-unit dwellings to contract with video service competitors—such as Verizon and AT&T—as well as the incumbent cable provider, the FCC reverses a four-year old ruling in which it endorsed the right of cable operators and apartment building owners to strike exclusive deals. Calling the exclusive agreements “a significant barrier” to competition, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin proclaimed: “there is no reason that consumers living in apartment buildings should be locked into one service provider.” AT&T, which had lobbied in favor of the rule change, applauded the FCC’s move, observing, “without Commission action, the anti-competitive effects would have been felt for many years as these exclusive access agreements may last for several years or even perpetually.” Meanwhile, in a decision that echoes many of the tenets of last year’s video franchise order, the FCC extended to cable incumbents some of the pre-emptive franchise relief that was granted to competitive video market entrants, such as Verizon and AT&T, last year. Specifically, the FCC’s ruling requires certain fees and other compensation assessed by local franchising authorities (LFAs) on cable incumbents to be counted toward the cap on franchise fees, which stands at 5% of gross revenues. The order also extends to cable incumbents (1) prohibitions, adopted in the video franchise proceeding last year, on “unreasonable” LFA obligations that pertain to public, educational and governmental channels, and (2) the preemption of LFA jurisdiction over mixed-use networks. The FCC, however, declined to apply to incumbents build-out rules and time limits for franchise negotiations that were enacted last year and further emphasized that the order “does not give incumbents any right to breach their existing contract obligations.”