A pair of small cable operators, Stanford University and the City of San Bruno, Calif., have teamed up to file a program access complaint at the Federal Communications Commission against Comcast, citing its move of games of Major League Baseball's Oakland A's and the National Hockey League's San Jose Sharks from its San Francisco regional sports network (CSN Bay Area) to its Sacramento RSN (CSN California).
In the complaint filed Dec. 23, the parties, including Wave Division and Horizon Cable TV, say Comcast state that engaged in unfair competition and unfair and deceptive acts, the upshot of which has been price and term descrimination in the delivery of the must-have sports programming (Comcast also has systems serving both markets).
Officials at Comcast Sports said "we'll file our response with the FCC in due order."
The American Cable Association, which represents small and medium-sized cable operators, including the two who joined in the complaint, was solidly behind the petition.
"The complaint highlights the need for additional safeguards and remedies to prevent Comcast Corp. from abusing its market power to harm consumers, competitors, and the public interest in the distribution of 'must have' regional sports networks under its control," said American Cable Association president Matt Polka in a statement.
Polka also used the opportunity to relate it to Comcast's proposed joint venture with NBC Universal.
"Regulators must be certain that if Comcast takes control of NBC Universal, it can't engage in unfair methods of competition and deceptive practices when competitors seek access to NBC broadcast signals, Comcast-NBCU national cable networks, and various Internet-content services, such as live streaming of the Olympics," said Polka.
Wave Division, Horizon Cable TV, Stanford and San Bruno argue that the move of the teams by Comcast "artificialy linked" the San Francisco and Sacramento DMAs, which required the operators to buy both RSNs to maintain the previous access to the teams.
The parties aver that Comcast raised the price of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, without replacing it with "reasonably equivalent" marquee sports programming, and charged more for CSN California to reflect the addition of the games. The petitioners claim this was equivalent to a dramatic price increase to the operators and customers.
They also took issue with the way Comcast structured the high-defintion and standard definition feeds of the channels, including moving some content to the enhanced signals that cost the operators more to carry.
The complaint asks the FCC to sanction Comcast, grant the petitioners relief, and award damages, while noting that arbitration would be an insufficient remedy. That relief, according to the complaint, should include:
"1. Restoration of the major league team content of the RSNs as it was prior to the May 10, 2009 realignment;
2. Refund of all surcharge fees paid by Petitioners through the date of the Commission's order and elimination;
3. Require alignment of standard-definition and high-definition content on each SanFrancisco RSN and Sacramento RSN;
4. Require greater availability (geographically) of the HD terrestrial feed or require distribution via satellite;
5. Prohibit future movement of major league sports teams from an in-market (DMA) RSN to an out-of-market RSN or any combinations of RSNs or RSN carriage obligations that would have a similar effect; and
6. Award to Petitioners all costs, fees and expenses incurred in connection with the investigation and prosecution of this complaint."