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FCC To Return Program Access Complaints To ALJ

Posted at 4:24 p.m. ET

In a victory for cable operators, the FCC is now expected to return a half-dozen program access complaints to an administrative law judge, which means the complaints will be adjudicated over a longer period of time and without factoring in the Media Bureau's tentative finding that the operators had discriminated against the complainants.

That is according to a source familiar with the swift-moving decision, which will be done on the commission's own motion, rather than in response to any of the specific filings by either party.

Operators had asked acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps to step in.

The move would preempt a Media Bureau deadline of Jan. 28 for filings related to the complaints, which had been lodged against Comcast, Cox, Time Warner and Brighthouse by the NFL Network, Wealth TV, and Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. The bureau had originally delegated fact-finding on the complaints to an FCC judge. But when that judge said it would take longer than the bureau's 60-day deadline for a decision, the Media Bureau reasserted its jurisdiction and tried to speed the process along. Operators backed the ALJ route, particularly since the judge also declined to count the tentative finding against. Programmers wanted the expedited schedule backed by the bureau and its former boss, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

Saying they recognized the press of other matters, like the DTV transition, operators had argued in the letter to Copps that if prompt action on the review application or stay motion was impractical, Copps could always instruct the bureau to rescind the orders reclaiming jurisdiction, and allow the ALJ to continue along his planned schedule, which he put on hold last week.

The FCC appears to have taken the latter route.

Earlier Tuesday, programmers were busy preparing those filings under the expectation, and hope, that the deadline would hold.