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FCC starting to wade into Fox-Cablevision battle

October 22, 2010 | 11:09 am

A senior Federal Communications Commission official wants to know whether Fox and Cablevision are negotiating in "good faith" or are spending all their time running attack ads against each other.

It is almost a week since the signals of News Corp.'s Fox's television stations in New York and Philadelphia were yanked from about 3 million Cablevision Systems Corp. homes in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. So far, the two companies are nowhere near reaching a deal, frustrating consumers and angering politicians.

In a letter to Chase Carey, chief operating officer of News Corp., and James Dolan, chief executive of Cablevision, FCC Media Bureau Chief William Lake asked both companies to provide details of their negotiations to the regulatory agency so it can determine whether both sides are actually interested in getting a deal done and engaging in good-faith negotiations. 

"I know that you are aware that both broadcasters and multichannel video programming distributors have a statutory duty to engage in 'good-faith' negotiations," Lake wrote, adding that if either company is "aware of any conduct by the other side that you believe violates the good faith requirement, please so indicate and provide supporting evidence."

Although the FCC is somewhat limited in the role it can have in these negotiations, the longer the fight drags on, the more of a push there will be from politicians to change the current laws that govern how broadcasters and distributors negotiate in a way that will give the FCC more clout. Sen. John F. Kerry, (D-Mass.) has already said he plans to introduce legislation to do just that.

Lake reminded both companies that their dispute has affected "millions of innocent consumers who expect to watch their preferred broadcast programming without interruption."

In a statement Friday morning, Fox said "it's becoming clear that Cablevision believes Fox has very limited value to their customers" and told the company's subscribers who want to see the network's coverage of the World Series to "switch providers or purchase an over-the-air antenna now."

Cablevision has said it is willing to let a third-party arbitrator settle the dispute. Fox has refused that option partly because if the ruling were to lead to a pricetag cheaper than what other distributors are currently paying for Fox's TV signals, the company would have to renegotiate the deals that contain so-called most-favored nation clauses.

Lake set a response deadline of Monday. Fox said it would respond to the FCC letter. A Cablevision spokesperson said it welcomes the FCC's internvention. "Whether through FCC action, binding arbitration or any other means, the time has come for News Corp to end the Fox blackout of 3 million Cablevision households,” a Cablevision spokesman said.

-- Joe Flint

For the record: This post was updated to include Cablevision's response to the FCC letter.