Cable Operators Ask Copps to Send Complaints Back to Judge

Ask new chairman to send program access complaints back, call of Media Bureau filing deadline
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Cable operators targeted in a half-dozen program access complaints have asked acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps to return the complaints to an administrative law judge for hearings on the merits, and to call off a deadline, set by the Media Bureau, that would require them to make sizable filings by next week.

The FCC's Media Bureau under Republican Chairman Kevin Martin had reasserted jurisdiction over the complaints after the judge said he could not meet the 60-day timetable on coming up with a decision that the bureau set when it delegated the complaints for hearing.

The bureau then instructed the parties to file arguments and supporting data by Jan. 28.

In a letter to Copps Friday, the targets of the complaints--Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and Bright House--urged Copps and the other commissioners to vote on the cable operators request that the Media Bureau's move to take back the adjudication of the case be stayed and reviewed by the full commission.

Programmers Wealth TV, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and the NFL Network filed complaints against the operators, saying they had discriminated against their networks in favor of the operators own, owned networks. They then pressed for the bureau to step in after the judge couldn't meet the deadline. They also did not like the fact that the judge said he would not take into account that the bureau had tentatively found the operators had discriminated against the programmers.

The operators claim the Media Bureau exceeded its authority by preempting the judge and his hearing schedule.

Saying they recognized the press of other matters, like the DTV transition, the operators argued in the letter Friday that if prompt action on the review application or stay motion was impractical, Copps could always instruct the bureau to rescind the orders reclaiming jurisdiction, and allow the ALJ to continue along his planned schedule, which he put on hold last week.

Martin had wanted the commission to find against the cable operators without having to send the complaints to the ALJ--the bureau had tentatively found against them--but other commissioners wanted them referred to the judge, which is why the operators hope they have a more sympathetic ear in Copps.