Cable Ops Diverge on Regional Sports

Publish date:

Washington — Cable’s David
and Goliath have a disagreement.

The American Cable Association
told the Federal Communications
Commission last week that
there was still government work
to do to make access to regional
sports networks a competitive
marketplace, while cable giant
Comcast — majority owner of
NBCUniversal and its stable of
RSNs — said it was time for the
government to do less, not more,
in that space.

Commenting on an upcoming
report per the FCC’s own self-imposed
deadline, the ACA said that
report must focus on how vertically
integrated RSNs are priced
when sold to rival video providers.
The lobby group representing
small, independent cable operators
called it an industry-wide
problem that needs a comprehensive,
and overdue, examination.

“Access to competitively significant
networks like RSNs on fair
terms is essential to the promotion
of robust competition among
multichannel video programming
distributors (MVPDs),”
ACA president and CEO Matt Polka
said of the comments. “But all
too often, fair competition is a
mirage because RSNs owned by
large MVPDs have the incentive
and ability to undermine distribution
rivals by making them
pay excessive fees, knowing that
they cannot obtain effective relief
at the FCC.”

By January of 2012, the FCC, by
its own order, must produce a report
on the state of the regional
sports network market. The agency
set that deadline because it’s
six months before the access
conditions imposed on regional
sports networks in the 2006 purchase
of Adelphia Communications
by Comcast and Time Warner Cable are set to expire.

It recently (July 26, 2011, exactly a year before the Adelphia
RSN conditions expire) sought further comment for
the report on the impact of intervening events, including
the commission’s 2007 and 2010 revisions to programaccess
rules, as well as the access conditions in the approval
of the Comcast-NBCU joint venture.

For its part, in its comments to the FCC this week, Comcast
said the marketplace is intensely competitive and
that, in fact, no program-access or carriage regulations
are needed anymore. It says the FCC report should reflect
that competition is a significant restraint on anticompetitive

Comcast pointed out that even after the NBCU merger,
six out of seven channels on its systems were unaffiliated
with the company, and that with only rare exceptions,
it is able to reach carriage deals without “government superintendence.”

Only two parties have sought the outside arbitration
condition related to a Comcast RSN, the company, says,
and neither is another cable operator — it was Dish Network
and DirecTV. Only one of those actually proceeded
to a hearing and was resolved in Comcast’s favor.

The Adelphia condition said the commission, after it releases
that report in January, “may determine if further action
is warranted.”