Verizon Calls Foul on MSG

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Verizon Communications
went to the blogosphere
in its fight to get New York-area
regional sports networks MSG and
MSG Plus in HD, complaining
that the Federal Communications
Commission has still not acted on
its July 2009 program-access request
even after the agency voted
to eliminate the so-called “terrestrial
loophole” in its regulations.

“It’s time for the FCC to act on
our program-access complaint
against Cablevision,” Verizon
media-relations director Bill Kula
wrote in the telco’s corporate blog
on March 30. “Cablevision is unlawfully
withholding HD sports
programming, and the record in
that proceeding is complete. We
filed our complaint over eight
months ago, and there’s nothing
left for the FCC to do but act on it.”

Madison Square Garden —
parent of MSG and MSG Plus —
was spun off from Cablevision in
January, but the cable company’s
CEO, James Dolan, is executive
chairman of the Garden and the
Dolan family holds controlling
interest in both entities.

Kula added that Verizon had
originally requested a decision
from the commission within five
months. “Each day that the FCC
doesn’t act is another day that FiOS
subscribers are being prevented
from watching their favorite sports
teams in HD, and all customers in
the marketplace are denied a more
meaningful choice in video providers
who can offer the content that
people want,” he wrote.

The FCC’s Media Bureau, which
handles program-access complaints,
confirmed that it has received
Verizon’s complaint but
otherwise declined to comment.

Cablevision referred to its previous
comments on the issue. “If
the phone companies complain
that they are unable to compete,
we are confident that we can
prove that it is for a variety of reasons,
none of which have to do
with HD sports programming,”
the New York-area cable operator
said in January. “Verizon and
AT&T do not need a regulatory
bailout in order to compete.”

That statement came after the
FCC issued an order in January
that essentially closed the exemption
to its program-access
rules for terrestrially delivered
networks in which cable operators
have a financial interest.

Separately, last month the D.C.
Circuit Court denied a challenge
by Cablevision and Comcast to the
FCC’s program-access rules.

Cablevision has withheld the
terrestrially delivered HD feeds of
its affi liated regional sports networks
MSG and MSG Plus from
telco competitors in New York
City, Buff alo, N.Y., and Connecticut.
The RSNs carry exclusive
game broadcasts for several area
teams, including the New York
Knicks, New York Rangers, New
York Islanders, New Jersey Devils
and Buff alo Sabres.

Verizon filed a program-access
complaint in 2006 to compel Cablevision
to sell the telco MSG in
standard definition.