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ACA Backs Small Operators In Filing Program Access Complaint Against Comcast

The American Cable Association strongly supported four small cable operators in northern California in filing a federal complaint against Comcast Corp. to stop the country's largest operator from engaging in discriminatory conduct in the sale of two regional sports networks (RSNs) in the San Francisco and Sacramento television markets.

The complaint was filed at the Federal Communications Commission, which has the legal authority to bar cable operators from engaging in unfair methods of competition or unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the sale of cable programming in which they have an ownership interest. The cable operators lodging the complaint were WaveDivision Holdings, LLC, Horizon Cable TV, Inc., Stanford University, and City of San Bruno, Calif.

"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," American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.

The small cable operators -- all of whom compete head-to-head with Comcast for video subscribers -- alleged that Comcast has made a number of legally problematic moves to raise significantly the wholesale cost of its San Francisco and Sacramento RSNs. Although the complaint included dollar amounts and percentage increases for review by the FCC, the version made available to the public was redacted and kept confidential.

The complaint comes as Comcast prepares to gain regulatory approval to take majority control of NBC Universal in a $30 billion transaction that would create the country's most powerful online and traditional programming company. ACA has already urged the FCC and antitrust authorities to take appropriate action to ensure that the media giant may not use its enhanced market power to raise prices and limit choices for consumers of small and medium-sized cable and broadband operators.

"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," Polka added.

Among other things, the complaint stated that Comcast migrated the Oakland A's baseball games and San Jose Sharks hockey games from the San Francisco RSN to the Sacramento RSA; Comcast then "drastically increased" wholesale fees and surcharges for both RSNs while failing to find marquee replacement programming for the A's and Sharks on the San Francisco RSN.

The complaint also stated that Comcast created less content on the respective SD feeds of the RSNs than is available on the respective HD feeds and that Comcast limited access of the HD feeds of the RSNs to terrestrial delivery and conditioned the availability of the HD feeds on basic tier placement.

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