NFL Asks Copps To Stick To Media Bureau Timetable

New FCC Chairman deals with programming disputes.

Turns out both sides in the program access dispute between programmers and cable operators wasted no time contacting acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps.

NFL Network counsel Jonathan Blake wrote Copps Friday responding to a letter to Copps from Comcast and other cable operators targeted in the complaints.

Blake asked that the new chairman and his fellow commissioners allow the Media Bureau to continue to expedite the complaint process. The bureau issued Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve orders reclaiming jurisdiction over judging the complaints after an administrative law judge (ALJ) said he could not meet the 60-day timetable the bureau had set for rendering a decision and still give the complaints a fair hearing.

Complicating matters was the fact that the judge who made that call subsequently retired, though his successor stuck with the decision.

"[P]roceeding with the Media Bureau process seems especially sensible and consistent with the statutory directive for expedition given that the recent retirement of Judge Steinberg has left only one ALJ in that office and there are six proceedings to be resolved and six recommended opinions to be written," said Blake. The bureau has asked both sides to file arguments and supporting material by Jan. 28.

"There is no question that the Media Bureau has authority to resolve any disputed issues in this proceeding, without the help of an administrative law judge, and to issue a recommended decision," said Blake.

Saying the bureau had overstepped its bounds, cable operators had asked Copps to reverse the Media Bureau and allow the complaints to be heard on the judge's timetable, which would mean at least a couple more months. Even after the ALJ renders a decision, it has to go to the full commission for a vote.

NFL Network, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and Wealth TV filed complaints against various cable operators--Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, and Bright House, arguing they had discriminated against the programmers in favor of the cable operators own, owned networks.