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DOJ Probes Cablers Withholding Partly Owned Terrestrial HD

The U.S. Dept. of Justice is reportedly investigating complaints lodged by Verizon and AT&T that a few cablers have intentionally blocked their competitors from purchasing certain types of programming (primarily live sports events) where the cable operators in question may hold some form of financial interest.

A sticking point in the dispute is the alleged unavailability of HD content in and around the nation’s largest DMA, New York City.

Among a seemingly growing list of legal actions now pending, the New York Times reports Verizon filed a complaint against Cablevision in early July over access to HD transmissions of games involving the NBA’s New York Knicks, and the NHL’s New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo (N.Y.) Sabres.

Since a lot of regional sports networks are delivered by landlines rather than satellite, there seems to be a Catch-22 as far as the FCC is concerned. Commission rules currently obligate satellite-delivered cable programming to be delivered to competitors at fair-market terms and pricing. But some parties interpret the regs as not requiring similar accessibility to terrestrial content programming (the “terrestrial loophole”).

The new Obama FCC is now reconsidering its program access rules, although whether it eventually chooses to include terrestrial content in its fair-competition rules is anyone’s guess.