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Complaints in Cable Operators Dispute to be Filed by Wednesday

At press time, parties to a half dozen program access complaints against major cable operators were still slated to file information to the FCC by close of business Wednesday, Jan. 28.

On Jan. 16, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's last day in the office, the Media Bureau directed both sides in the disputes to provide a raft of information to the commission, including what would be analogous to a baseball-style arbitration request for "a best and final offer for the price for carriage of the complainant's network on the defendant's systems," which programmers had asked for.

The complaints were filed by programmers Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, the NFL Network and Wealth TV against Comcast, Cox, Time Warner and Brighthouse for allegedly discriminating against those programmers' channels in favor of their own, owned content.

The Media Bureau had tentatively concluded back in October that the complaints were merited, but delegated them to an FCC administrative law judge for more fact-finding after FCC Chairman Kevin Martin could not muster three votes for a bureau-level sanction, but with the stipulation that the decision be rendered by early December.

But the judge concluded that the 60-day deadline was not enough time to render a fair judgment, and set the first formal hearing for March 16. He also said the bureau's tentative conclusion that the operators had discriminated would not be factored into his decision. The December deadline came and went and the Media Bureau said it would decide the issue itself. Cable operators challenged the decision at the full commission back in December, when the full commission was still five members.

The full commission, now three members, has yet to act on that challenge. The operators also asked acting chairman Michael Copps to step in, return the complaints to the judge, and call off the Jan. 28 filing deadline. Copps' office had not returned a call for comment at press time, but MASN and NFL Network spokespeople said they were planning to file the information by Wednesday.

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.