The FCC will use a single arbitrator to settle program carriage disputes involving regional sports networks either owned by Comcast or Time Warner or seeking carriage on their systems. But that decision can then be appealed to the FCC.
That's according to the approval order for Comcast and Time Warner's purchase and divvying-up of bankrupt Adelphia, which the FCC released late Friday.
After the approval was announced earlier this month, the FCC suggested it might be a two-step process featuring an arbiter to first determine if the terms and conditions were unfair, then a second to chose between the two sides' best offers.
As it stands, it will be potentially two steps, with the FCC the court of second resort.
In the case of a dispute over a network already being carried, it must continue to be carried during the arbitration.
The arbiter has to make a decision within 30 days. If either side still has problems, they can appeal it to the FCC within another 30-day window. The FCC then has another 60 days to rule.
Saying the merger of Adelphia into Comcast and Time Warner created the potential for contoling access or inflating the price to regional sports, the FCC made protecting access to the hometown team's games a key condition of approving the merger.
It defined regional sports nets as must-have programming, for which there is not reasonable substitute, and access to which is crucial to competing multichannel video providers like satellite and telcos.
It made an exception in Philadelphia, however, grandfathering Comcast's decision not to make its regional sports network there available to the satellite competition, using an access exception to landline-delivered sports networks.
The arbitration provision sunsets after six years.