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FCC Reviews Access-Complaint Procedure - Broadcasting & Cable

FCC Reviews Access-Complaint Procedure

FCC's Enforcement Bureau considers whether ALJ was bound by 60-day deadline set by Media Bureau
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The FCC's Enforcement Bureau says it has not decided whether an FCC administrative law judge (ALJ) was or was not bound by a 60-day deadline set by the FCC's Media Bureau on adjudicating complaints against the nation's top cable operators.

In a New Year's Eve filing with the commission and to the attention of the ALJ, Judge Richard Sippel, Enforcement Bureau Chief Kris Monteith said that while the Media Bureau has the authority to establish that time frame, it has "not taken a position," either explicitly or implicitly, on whether the deadline was a jurisdictional requirement to which Judge Sippel was bound.

That Enforcement Bureau comment came in response to a request for clarification by Time Warner, one of the subjects of the complaints, which argues the judge retains jurisdiction even though he did not meet that 60-day time frame and that it was not enough time in which to reach a fair decision.

After the deadline passed, the Media Bureau announced, on Christmas Eve, that it would step back in to adjudicate the complaints. That was a Christmas present of sorts for the companies filing those complaints, which had sought their swift resolution, particularly given the Media Bureau's tentative finding for the complainants. It was also a finding supported by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. The complaints had been referred to the ALJ after other commissioners said they wanted that extra level of fact-finding.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told reporters earlier this week that he thought the ALJ's decision not to hold to the deadline did effectively put the decision back in the Media Bureau's hands, since it delegated the decision to the ALJ in the first place with the stipulation that a decision be made within 60 days (which would have been by Dec. 9).

At issue are a half-dozen program access complaints filed against Time Warner, Comcast, Cox and Brighthouse by programmers Wealth TV, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), and the NFL. They argue the cable operators discriminated against their programming in favor of the operators' own channels in which they had a financial interest.

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