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One small step closer to the day of cutting the cable cord…

Good news of sorts for those of us who hope that, somewhere down the line, a device such as the Apple TV can free us from cable and satellite TV fees. However, to challenge the cable and satellite TV industry’s dominance in the living room, online video services need hit movies and TV shows to attract viewers, and access to high-speed Internet networks to reach them.

Until now we’ve had no rights to either. However, that’s changing. To win government approval to take over NBC Universal last month, cable giant Comcast has agreed to let online rivals such as Netfllix license NBC programming, including hit shows such as “30 Rock” and “The Office,” reports the “Associated Press” ( Comcast also agreed not to block its 17 million broadband subscribers from watching video online through services such as Netflix and iTunes, the article adds.

Those requirements by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department are designed to ensure that the nation’s largest cable TV company, with nearly 23 million video subscribers in 39 states, can’t stifle the growth of the growing Internet video business. As the “AP” notes, although they apply only to Comcast and NBC, “these conditions could serve as a model for other big entertainment companies in dealing with new online competitors.” They also send a message that the government “believes these promising young rivals deserve an opportunity to take on established media companies,” the article adds.

On the downside, as far as I can tell, there’s no stipulation on what Comcast can charge for licensing broadcast rights to NBC shows. In theory, they could just make the prices so exorbitant that Netflix and iTunes couldn’t afford them. Of course, the FCC would probably frown on that as being anti-competitive, but who knows?

NBC is one of the holdouts from Apple’s plan to offer $0.99 rentals of individual TV show episodes to users of the Apple TV. ABC and Fox were Apple’s original network partners, with NBC refusing to participate because teh low price point would “devalue [their] content,” according to former NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker. However, he’s no longer at NBC, and the network’s new owners might reconsider.

Under the government regulations, Comcast has to continue to offer Internet services outside of a cable TV bundle with broadband download speeds for around $50 a month. I’ll be willing to pay more for Internet service when the day arrives that I can pick and choose the channels and programs I want to watch instead of forking out for a cable or satellite packed filled with dozens of channels I never watch.

— Dennis Sellers

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