FCC: Cablevision/MSG Network Violated Program-Access Rules


The Federal Communications Commission's Media Bureau has ruled that Cablevision/Madison Square Garden Network violated the agency's program-access rules by withholding HD versions of MSG and MSG-Plus from Verizon and AT&T.

The FCC ruled that it was an "unfair act" that "had the effect" of "significantly hindering AT&T [and Verizon] from providing a competing video service."

The FCC said MSG had 30 days to make the nets available to both AT&TU-verse and Verizon FiOS on reasonable terms and conditions.

Verizon and AT&T said it was a win for consumers, while Cablevision said the FCC's Media Bureau had not gotten its facts straight.
The decisions follow the FCC's move to close the so-called terrestrial loophole/exemption that had prevented access complaints against withholding of affiliated terrestrially-delivered networks. The FCC gave AT&T and Verizon a chance to refile their complaints under a new standard of unfairness.

The rules also made clear that HD and standard-def channels are separate entities for the purposes of access. Verizon FiOS carried the standard-definition versions of the channels, but Cablevision had not made their HD counerparts available.

In separate complaints, Verizon and AT&T had asked the FCC to force Cablevision Systems and Madison Square Garden to sell HD feeds of MSG Network and MSG Plus to the telco for its FiOS TV service in the New York area.

The FCC last year removed the exemption of terrestrially delivered networks like MSG from program-access requirements.

Both AT&T and Verizon complaints involved carriage of HD signals in Connecticut. Both carry the SD feeds of MSG and MSG Plus, which between them hold local TV rights to the National Basketball Association's New York Knicks, and the National Hockey League's New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders. The Knicks and Rangers are now part of Madison Square Garden, which was spun-off from Cablevision last year.

"The FCC's decision means that Cablevision no longer can withhold popular programming, such as HD sports programming, from its competitors," said AT&T in a statement. "We look forward to bringing to our customers this ‘must have' content, and enhancing AT&T's U-Verse service to better compete against the cable companies. We are pleased the FCC has resolved this dispute in favor of competition and consumers."

"Today's disappointing rulings do not appear to be based on the facts," said Cablevison in a statement. "The data clearly demonstrates that there has been no competitive harm to the nation's two largest phone companies as a result of not having two HD channels they already receive in SD. New York is the most competitive market in the country and this decision only hurts fair competition and consumers. Instead of competing on the merits in the marketplace, Verizon and AT&T are manipulating federal law to gain an unfair advantage and we have every intention of pursuing relief in the courts."