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Verizon Asks FCC to Prevent Cable Companies From Blocking Access to Regional Sports Programming

WASHINGTON - Armed with a new federal court ruling that further strengthens the legal basis for action, Verizon is calling on the Federal Communications Commission to act promptly to stop incumbent cable television companies from illegally denying competitive video providers access to "must have" regional sports programming.

In a filing with the FCC on Thursday (May 28), Verizon told the commission that "the cable incumbents' documented history of abusing their control of regional sports networks and other regional sports programming to deny consumers a meaningful competitive choice is a real and ongoing problem that must be addressed."

That history includes withholding what the FCC calls "must have" sports programming in markets across the nation where many fans want to be able to choose a new television provider and continue to watch their local sports teams. 

It wasn't until Verizon filed a program access complaint with the commission that Cablevision, the company's main competitor in the New York City market, began to sell, as required by law, access to its regional sports channels, MSG and MSG Plus. Today, Cablevision still refuses to supply that programming in high-definition format.

"By denying competing video providers access to regional sports, the cable incumbents deny many consumers a meaningful choice in video services," Verizon said in its FCC filing.  "Without access to the games of local sports teams (many of whom compete in facilities funded by taxpayer dollars and obtain other public benefits, such as exemption from antitrust laws), many viewers simply will not consider a competing provider's video services." 

In its FCC filing, Verizon said Tuesday's National Cable & Telecommunications Association v. FCC ruling by the D.C. Circuit "confirms that the commission has a solid statutory basis" for action.  

That ruling unanimously confirmed that Section 628(b) of the Cable Act "prohibits any 'unfair methods of competition or unfair or deceptive acts or practices, the purpose or effect of which is to hinder significantly or prevent any [video provider] from providing satellite cable programming ... to subscribers or consumers,'" Verizon said.  "Refusing to provide access to regional sports programming, regardless of how it is delivered, violates that prohibition."

Acquiring high-definition format sports programming is important, Verizon told the commission, because "More than 45 percent of American households have an HD television set, up from less than 20 percent in 2006. Nielsen data show higher levels of sports viewing and engagement in HD homes, with ratings for sports events 20 percent higher in HD homes compared to U.S. households as a whole."

Verizon included in the FCC filing a sampling of online postings from consumers that demonstrates the impact on them of Cablevision's refusal to provide regional sports programming in high definition.

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