Comcast Responds to FCC Plan to Adjudicate Access Complaints

Comcast says it is considering its legal options after the FCC's Media Bureau decided last week to preempt an FCC administrative law judge's adjudication of program access complaints against it.

In a statement Monday, Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice called the FCC's decision puzzling and unusual given that the same bureau had delegated the fact finding to a judge only two months before. Comcast said the FCC's move "seeks to disrupt the reasoned adjudicative process."

The bureau had sent a handful of complaints lodged by Wealth TV and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network against Comcast, Time Warner and other cable operators to an administrative law judge, but with instructions to complete their fact-finding review within 60 days--the dealine for which passed in early December. The judge said that was not enough time for a fair hearing, prompting the bureau to weigh in and say it would take over the task. That suggests there could be a decision on the complaints relatively soon, perhaps before FCC Chairman Martin exits the big chair.

The bureau has already said it thinks the cable operators discriminated against Wealth TV and MASN, though the ALJ had concluded he would begin judging from square one, without taking into account that tentative conclusion. Martin, too, has said he believes the operators discriminated, and would have preferred that the bureau had issued that decision, rather than refer it to the judge, but other commissioners wanted that extra layer of vetting.

'The Media Bureau’s action [in taking back the complaint adjudication] is especially puzzling in light of recent admonitions from Congressional leaders that the FCC -- and the Media Bureau in particular -- should be focusing solely on effectuating a successful broadcast digital transition," said Fitzmaurice "There is no reason for the Bureau to interfere with the adjudicative process, which has been proceeding on a schedule that the judges have found is as rapid as possible consistent with due process."

"The FCC has no factual or legal justification for forcing these networks onto our cable systems and driving up prices to cable consumers. We look forward to detailing our pro-consumer actions and the particulars of these cases."

Comcast may not have been happy with the Media Bureau call, but MASN was, not surprisingly, quite pleased.

“MASN is gratified by this decision, which is consistent with the bureau's responsibility to act swiftly to root out discrimination by powerful vertically-integrated cable monopolies,” said Todd Webster, MASN spokesman, in an e-mailed statement.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.