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FCC Judge Sticking To Timetable For Judging Program Access Complaints

An FCC administrative law judge says he will continue on his timetable for judging program access complaints against the nation's largest cable operators.

Chief Administrative Law Judge Richard Sippel, who either is or isn't going to adjudicate those complaints depending on what the full commission decides, says he plans to hold to previouly set, expedited deadlines for various status reports on the complaints while the FCC makes up its mind.

Comcast had asked for clarification that the judge's original timetable would be followed pending that full-commission decision, so it saw that decision as a victory. The judge was not framing it that way, though, saying holding to the schedule would especially benefit "those parties seeking expedited adverse findings and substantive relief."

That would be Wealth TV and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which argue that the cable operators discriminated against their programming services in favor of the operators'own, owned content.

The FCC's Media Bureau on Christmas and New Years Eve, respectively, issued two decisions that took the complaint adjudication process away from Chief Administrative Law Judge Richard Sippel. That came after he concluded that the bureau's 60-day deadline for a decision (which expired Dec. 9) was not enough time to render a fair verdict. The judge's timetable has the trial beginning in March.

The bureau had initially delegated the complaints to the judge--actually his predecessor, who since retired--after FCC Chairman Kevin Martin could not get the three votes he needed to conclude there had been discrimination.

After some of the subjects of those complaints, including Comcast and Time Warner, filed emergency petitions to stay the Media Bureau decisions to reclaim the complaints, Sippel said in an order issued Tuesday (Jan. 6) that while the commission decides which way to go, he still wants the relevant parties to file status reports on various aspects of the case by 4 p.m. Wednesday (Jan. 7).

Comcast, for one, argued the Media Bureau illegally reclaimed jurisdiction over the complaint-adjudication process, and filed for a stay of the decision and full-commission review.

Time Warner also argues that the judge's decision not to hold to the Media Bureau's 60-day timetable did not affect the his continuing jurisdiction over the complaints.

Both favor the longer timetable set by the judge, as well as the decision not to include the Media Bureau's tentative conclusion that the complaints were warranted.