Sky Angel Files Suit Against C-SPAN

Alleges Cable Ops Colluded to Use Public Affairs Net as a Weapon Against It

Sky Angel has filed an antitrust suit against C-SPAN, saying the public affairs net improperly withdrew its programming from the program distributor in 2009.

Sky Angel says that because C-SPAN is owned and operated by the cable industry, it "ceased to act as a legitimate collaboration among competitors" with the withdrawl of programming and instead illegally harmed competition by depriving Sky Angel of content that was highly valued and that all of Sky Angel's competitors had access to.

In 2008, Sky Angel decided to switch from a satellite service to what it describes as a hybrid satellite/Internet delivery service, a move that prompted some programmers to choose not to be carried.

Sky Angel subsequently filed a program access suit against one of those programmers, Discovery Communications. The FCC has yet to resolve the complaint, but has tentatively concluded an over-the-top aggregator does not fall under program access rule protections because it does not also own the distribution facilities that a traditional MVPD does. As an adjunct to that decision, the commission has also asked for comment on the tentative conclusion and how it should treat online video providers going forward when it comes to protections like program carriage and obligations like PEG programming and access obligations.

"Competitors can act in concert if they have a legitimate reason," said Sky Angel attorney Jonathan Rubin, "but, agreeing to withhold programming in order to stifle a new entrant into the marketplace is not a legitimate reason."

The suit alleges that the C-SPAN board, comprising execs from top cable companies, "authorized C-SPAN to withhold its programming from Sky Angel, hijacked the public service mission of C-SPAN's legitimate competitor collaboration and repurposed C-SPAN as an instrument to boycott, exclude, injure and destroy Sky Angel."

Sky Angel is seeking damages and mandatory access to C-SPAN for the next decade.

C-SPAN officials said they would have no comment until they saw the suit.