The Federal Communications Commission should compel Cablevision and its Madison Square Garden network to provide Verizon with local sports programming in high definition (HD), a unique asset that they have intentionally and unlawfully refused to make available, Verizon requested in a complaint filed Tuesday (July 7).
In a Program Access Complaint, Verizon stated that Cablevision "continually has denied Verizon access to the high-definition (HD) versions of its regional sports programming on any terms." Specifically, Cablevision has refused to sell the HD rights to local coverage of the New York Knicks, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres games.
At the same time that Cablevision has denied customers of competing cable service access to local sports programming in HD, the Long Island-based cable TV company "has bragged to analysts and the public about its anticompetitive efforts, trumpeting that , Optimum Online is the only HD source for four of the nine professional sports teams in the New York City metro area," Verizon said in its filing.
As explained in the filing, Cablevision acknowledges that it retains a competitive advantage by virtue of its control over this unique and nonreplicable HD regional sports programming, which it obtained before Verizon began its competing services.
The refusal to provide this programming, Verizon said in its filing, "has significantly hindered or prevented Verizon from providing its competing programming service ...to the many customers for whom this regional sports programming is 'must have.'" The filing stated: "For these customers, a service lacking their teams' games in HD is not a meaningful choice at all."
Verizon also noted in its filing that Cablevision previously refused to market its MSG networks in standard-definition TV. It was only after Verizon filed a program access complaint similar to the one filed Tuesday that Cablevision agreed to sell the sports networks in SD to Verizon.
Verizon asked that the commission rule on the company's complaint within five months.
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