Cox has decided to make San Diego Padres baseball games available to AT&T, DirecTV and Dish, settling a long-standing dispute over access to what its competitors argued was must-have sports programming.
The Federal Communications Commission last January voted to get rid of the exemption from access regulations for terrestrially delivered regional nets like Cox-4 in San Diego, which has the rights to the Major League Baseball club's games.
Under the FCC's newly narrowed rules, cable operators that do not share their owned terrestrially delivered regional sports networks with their competitors will be presumed to be in violation FCC rules against unfair acts or practices.
"We are using Fox networks to help us negotiate potential negotiation deals with other folks for Channel 4," said Cox spokesman Todd Smith, citing both "business reasons" and the FCC's rule change. Why Fox? "They are used to negotiating carriage deals and we are used to distributing networks," said Cox.
He said there is no deal yet, but that Cox has "contacted other carriers that have expressed interest in the past." He confirmed that group includes AT&T U-verse as well as Dish Network and DirecTV.
Back in March 2009, the FCC denied AT&T's program-access complaint against Cox. The telephone company had said Cox's refusal to give it access to must-have San Diego Padres games on Cox-4 hampered AT&T's effort to acquire and retain subs for U-verse.
The FCC said that since Cox-4 was terrestrially delivered, it was beyond the FCC's reach because of the terrestrial exemption. While cable operators were required by law to provide nondiscriminatory access to "satellite-delivered" channels in which they own a financial interest, the FCC had felt constrained by that language when it came to complaints against terrestrially-delivered networks like some regional news/sports nets.
Now, the FCC has invited those whose complaints had been rejected under the old scheme to take another crack. AT&T did, and in April a couple of California congressman asked FCC chairman Julius Genachowski to act on that re-filed complaint.