One of cable’s most irksome long-running battles isn’t over yet: Cablevision is appealing an FCC order that requires MSG — which the cable operator controls — to offer HD feeds of its two New York regional sports channels to Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse. That announcement followed a statement from Verizon today saying that it had “a home-team win in overtime” and promising to offer HD versions of MSG and MSG+ in December to FiOS TV customers in all service packages except FiOS TV Local. The HD feeds are a big deal to fans of the New York Knicks, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, the Buffalo Sabres and the New Jersey Devils.
Cablevision’s appeal continues a dispute that began in 2009 – and that seemed to have reached an end last week. The FCC formally approved a decision from its Media Bureau requiring MSG to deal with FiOS and AT&T, and the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals refused Cablevision’s request to stay the FCC order. But Cablevision says it is returning to the court for a stay while it seeks a review of the FCC’s orders. “We continue to believe that an unbiased review of the data can only result in one conclusion: that there has been no competitive harm to the nation’s two largest phone companies,” Cablevision says. “In a highly competitive marketplace like New York, a forced sharing of offerings only deters companies from investing and innovating, which hurts both fair competition and consumers.”
The dispute largely revolves around a federal law that requires cable operators to offer channels that they own to competitors – but left a loophole by referring to services distributed to pay TV providers via satellite. Cablevision said the rule didn’t apply to MSG because it’s distributed on landlines. The FCC’s Media Bureau still said that the decision to withhold HD transmissions was “unfair” and violated the program access rules. Although Cablevision spun off MSG’s parent company in February 2010, the cable operator’s CEO, Jim Dolan, controls MSG and is its executive director.