Univ. joins complaint against Comast sports networks

Jan. 5, 2010, 1:15 a.m.

San Jose’s hockey team isn’t the only shark in the Bay Area, according to a complaint filed against Comcast Cable by Stanford University, the city of San Bruno and two local cable providers.

The Dec. 23 Federal Communications complaint — filed jointly by Horizon Cable TV, WaveDivision Holdings, the city of San Bruno and Stanford University–alleges that Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, unfairly combined its Sacramento and Bay Area regional sports networks, forcing cable competitors wanting to broadcast Comcast’s programming to purchase both CSN Bay Area and CSN California (Sacramento).

Comcast reassigned its game coverage of MLB Baseball’s Oakland A’s and the NHL’s San Jose Sharks from its San Francisco network (CSN Bay Area) to its Sacramento network (CSN California), raising the price of both networks, even though CSN Bay Area lost coverage of its headlining teams. Competing cable companies that wanted to run coverage of those teams had to pay more for two Regional Sports Networks (RSNs) and non-Comcast subscribers were landed with increased rates.

What’s more, the complaint says, Comcast raised prices for its own combined sports network package without increasing “major league sports programming.”

Comcast maintains that it reassigned its game programming to reduce scheduling conflicts and increase local sports coverage. For instance, according to CED Magazine, CSN Bay Area used to run games of both the A’s and San Francisco Giants, whose extra-long major league seasons would conflict with The Sharks’ and NBA Golden State Warriors’ games. Comcast says offering games on the Sacramento network eliminates any overlaps.

The allegations come at a bad time for Comcast, which is in the process of buying NBC Universal. The petitioners, backed by the American Cable Association, which represents small and medium-sized cable operators like Horizon and WaveDivision, slapped Comcast with the FCC complaint now to ensure that Comcast does not discriminate prices with NBC content.

“The complaint highlights the need for additional safeguards and remedies to prevent Comcast Corp. from abusing its market power to harm consumers, competitors, and the public interest in the distribution of ‘must have’ regional sports networks under its control,” said American Cable Association President Matt Polka in a statement. “Regulators must be certain that if Comcast takes control of NBC Universal, it can’t engage in unfair methods of competition and deceptive practices when competitors seek access to NBC broadcast signals, Comcast-NBCU national cable networks, and various Internet-content services, such as live streaming of the Olympics.”

Stanford University, the city of San Bruno and WaveDivision and Horizon are asking for the FCC to sanction Comcast, restore the previous major league content arrangements and award damages to the petitioners.

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