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Operators Get Big Win

In the first big move under acting chairman Michael Copps, the Federal Communications Commission has reversed its Media Bureau and returned a half-dozen program-access complaints to an administrative law judge.

“We conclude that the factual determinations required to fairly adjudicate these matters are best resolved through hearings before an administrative law judge, rather than solely through pleadings and exhibits as contemplated by the Media Bureau,” the commission ruled in a decision issued last Tuesday.

The FCC instructed the judge to issue a revised schedule of hearing and procedures accounting for any delays due to the Media Bureau’s efforts to reclaim jurisdiction and try the complaints itself. It also dismissed as moot the various petitions to review or stay that Media Bureau decision.

While the upshot of the decision is to provide more time to decide the complaints, the commission also instructed the judge to decide them “as expeditiously as possible” without compromising fairness or due process.

The complaints were filed by Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, NFL Network and Wealth TV against Cox Communications, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

“We are pleased that the Commission under the leadership of Chairman Copps has acted to return these cases to the Administrative Law Judge for a careful consideration of the facts consistent with the due-process rights of all parties,” said Comcast senior director of corporate communications and government affairs Sena Fitzmaurice. “The ALJ had previously set forth a reasoned, expedited adjudicative process and we look forward to working with the Judge to restart the hearing under his jurisdiction.”

“For months, we have repeatedly emphasized our interest in a fair and expeditious resolution of our discrimination complaint against Comcast,” NFL Network said in a statement. “We note that the Commission’s Order directs the ALJ to issue a recommended decision 'as expeditiously as possible, consistent with the mandates of fairness and due process.’ We are hopeful that the case will now move toward a prompt resolution.”