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FCC Looks To Expedite MASN Complaint

The FCC appears determined to get the games of the Washington Nationals to cable households as quickly as possible.

Its order July 21 outlining approval of the Comcast/Time Warner purchase of Adelphia gave the MidAtlantic Spots Network 10 days to take its complaint to an aribiter as part of a new arbitration process for program access complaints.

But separately, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has circulated a proposal, which the FCC commissioners have to vote on, that would send the existing MASN program access complaint against Comcast to an FCC administrative law judge for action within 45 days.

That 45 days is the same amount of time the arbiter will have to make his or her decision if MASN opts for that route, though the arbitration decision can be appealed to the FCC, which would then have another 60 days to consider it.

In essence, the FCC is offering MASN two, parallel tracks to get the issue resolved as quickly as possible.

New FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell criticized FCC inaction on the MASN complaint in no uncertain terms during the public meeting approving the Adelphia deal, asking the FCC to speed the process.

MASN has the rights to the Nationals, but Comcast does not carry the games on its D.C. area cable systems serving hundreds of thousands of households. The two have been in a protected dispute, including legal action, over Baltimore Orioles games, which Comcast has carried but Orioles owner Peter Angelos is moving to MASN. Angelos has rights to the Nationals as part of the deal that allowed the Washington team to move into the market that had been the Orioles' alone.

MASN, which has until Aug. 4 to decide, has not yet made up its mind. "We are evaluating how to most quickly get the games on for the fans," said spokesman Todd Webster, "but we are grateful that the FCC has stepped up to end the Comcast blackout."

MASN sent letters to Comcast and Time Warner Tuesday to resolve the matter before taking either of the government alternatives. Time Warner had not been carrying the games in Washington, either.
Comcast spokeswoman D'Arcy Rudnay had not returned a call at press time, but she told The Washington Post, which first reported the story of Martin's proposed ALJ referral: "We believe that any program carriage proceeding on this matter will conclude that the MASN complaint is wholly without merit."

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.