FCC Judge Preparing For Third Program Carriage Complaint

FCC Administrative Law Judge Richard Sippel is preparing to preside over the third of three program-carriage complaint hearings, this one dealing with a complaint filed by Mid-Atlantic Sports Network against Comcast.

Evidence is being introduced Monday, May 18, with testimony in the hearing slated to begin the next day. According to an MASN filing with the court, it plans to offer up four witnesses to what it alleges is Comcast's affiliation-based discrimination and retaliation against MASN and favoritism to its own similarly-situated networks.

In its hearing brief, MASN drew a distinction between the previous two carriage hearings, Wealth TV vs. Comcast et al. and NFL vs. Comcast, pointing out that while those dealt with national networks, this complaint deals with regional sports programming, which the FCC singled out as "must-have" programming.

MASN also has listed 234 exhibits including letters, petitions, and news stories (Multichannel News and B&C offerings among them).

The FCC's Media Bureau last year tentatively concluded that the cable operators cited in the complaints had discriminated, but the full commission sent them to the judge, actually a different judge, to adjudicate the complaints from scratch, which means the he does not get to factor in the Media Bureau's finding.

No decision on any of the complaints is expected until mid-to-late June at the earliest. Even then, those decisions are not the last word. They go to the full commission, which then must vote on the complaints.

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

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.