Washington

AT&T to Press MSG on Access to HD Feeds

Given greenlight by OMB approval on terrestrial exemption, telco threatens to amend program-access complaint against Cablevision sports nets 6/24/2010 06:00:00 AM Eastern

Related: Cox
Will Give AT&T, Others Access To Padres
Games

AT&T is again pressing its
case for carriage of Madison Square Garden HD signals in Connecticut.

According

to a copy of a letter being prepped by AT&T, the telco plans to
provide notice to MSG and Cablevision on June 24 that unless MSG starts
negotiating for carriage of MSG and MSG Plus Networks' HD feeds by
AT&T's U-Verse video service in Connecticut, it will amend its
program-access complaint. MSG's sports team coverage includes games of
the Knicks, Rangers, Devils and Islanders, programming AT&T calls
"unique and irreplaceable," including irreplaceable by standard-def
feeds.

The letter and the potential amendment was prompted by
the FCC's announcement this week that the Office of Management and
Budget had approved the paperwork collection elements of its change to
the terrestrial exemption. The exemption had previously essentially
insulated terrestrial nets like MSG from access complaints. But the FCC
made terrestrial nets subject to complaints in a ruling last January.
That change also included making clear that HD versions of networks
would be considered separately from standard-def versions, so that
making an SD version available, as MSG has to U-Verse, was not
sufficient access.

But while other parts of the FCC order went
into effect in April, the portions on information collection related to
the complaint process had not, pending paperwork-collection approval.
The OMB approval provided the green light to anyone who wanted to file
or update a complaint about access to a terrestrially delivered net.

AT&T

has started its engines. According to the company, during carriage
renewal negotiations with MSG on June 22, it informed the network of the
OMB approval and of what it said was MSG's "legal duty to negotiate in
good faith to grant AT&T access to the HD feeds as part of the
current contract negotiations." AT&T said Cablevision's response was
that it disagreed with AT&T's conclusion. Now, it is putting it in
writing.

"[T]his is to notify MSG and Cablevision that, unless
MSG agrees within the next ten days to negotiate in good faith a program
license agreement for the HD format of MSG and MSG Plus programming,
AT&T intends to submit a supplemental filing in the above-reference
complaint proceeding informing the Commission that MSG continues to
refuse to provide that programming in violation of section 628(b)"--that
is the unfair and deceptive practices prohibition the FCC used to bring
terrestrial nets into its program-access ambit.

In the wake of
the January FCC decision to remove the exemption, Cablevision had said
that it was still ready to defend itself, FCC change or no. "If the
phone companies complain that they are unable to compete, we are
confident that we can prove that it is for a variety of reasons, none of
which have to do with HD sports programming." Verizon also filed a
complaint about access to the nets in Connecticut.

But not
everyone was sticking to their guns. Last week, partly in anticipation
of the OMB approval, Cox agreed to start making its terrestrially
deliever Cox-4 net in San Diego and its Padres baseball games available
to AT&T, DirecTV and DISH, settling a long-standing dispute over
access to the regional sports net. Along with AT&T's and Verizon's
access complaints against Cablevision in Connecticut, that was one of
the complaints the FCC essentiall invited to be amended in light of the
decision.

September
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