Cablevision Brass Meets With Martin

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Washington—Top officials for Cablevision Systems Corp. last Friday met with Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin to discuss at least one programming issue that has the cable operator at odds with Verizon Communications Inc, according to FCC records.

The meeting with Martin involved Cablevision chairman Charles Dolan, chief operating officer Thomas Rutledge, and senior vice president of government affairs and education Lisa Rosenblum.

Among the topics discussed was Cablevision's support for current FCC rules which allow cable operators to withhold programming from competitors in instances where the programming isn't distributed via satellite.

Verizon, which is competing for video subscribers in Cablevision's New York City-area markets, has called on the FCC to close the so-called terrestrial loophole as means of leveling the playing field.

“Cablevision…reiterated the arguments in its filings in this proceeding regarding the terrestrial exemption to the program access,” according to Cablevision's filing by outside counsel Howard Symons.

Verizon called for elimination of the terrestrial loophole after Cablevision cited it in refusing to sell the HD feed of its MSG regional sports network. Cablevision did sell Verizon a standard definition version, a feed which is distributed via satellite and thus covered by the FCC's program access rules.

Cablevision's filing didn't record where the meeting occurred, though it did list other FCC participants. Martin was joined by his chief of staff Daniel Gonzalez and his senior legal advisor Michelle Carey.

Cablevision's filing also noted that on Monday "Mr. Dolan and Ms. Rosenblum" had "a telephone conversion with Chairman Martin and Mr. Gonzalez."

Another topic discussed was "the desirability of having the flexibility to determine how to offer programming to customers," a possible reference to Martin's support for rules that would require programmers to unbundle their channels at the wholesale level.

Martin has repeatedly insisted that no one at the FCC is working on his wholesale a la carte proposals.

"I have always appreciated how Mr. Dolan has been on the forefront of the need for more programming flexibility for consumers' sakes. We agree that with more programming choice through the wholesale unbundling of broadcast and cable programming, cable operators could give their customers more of what they want in packages they would find attractive in their markets," American Cable Association president Matt Polka said Wednesday.

Polka's organization of small cable operators has asked the FCC to force programming suppliers to make all of their channels available on an individual basis at the wholesale level.

A media industry lobbyist suggested that Martin met to find out if he could get Cablevision's support on the wholesale a la carte issue in exchange for retention of the terrestrial loophole.

An FCC official dismissed such a swap, claiming Martin didn't have the necessary votes to require the sale of all cable-affiliated programming services.