An Administrative Law Judge at the Federal Communications Commission made two procedural rulings last month, which may allow Comcast Corp. to keep the NFL Network from automatically broadcasting its programming to the vast majority of Comcast customers, for at least the rest of the NFL season.
The decision of ALJ Arthur I. Steinberg was seen as a blow to FCC chairman Kevin Martin, who has been fighting with Comcast for nearly four years. Expected to be replaced by President-elect Obama in January, Martin had put the Comcast-NFL Network dispute on the fast track, hoping to be in charge when the final votes were cast, according to Multichannel News, a trade publication.
It appeared his efforts were producing the desired results in October when an FCC judge held that Comcast discriminated against the NFL Network by agreeing to carry the channel only on a more expensive sports cable service.
The case was then referred to Steinberg, with the suggestion that he wrap up his consideration of the case by Dec. 9, which represented a 60-day deadline. Citing the fact that the Comcast-NFL Network matter was just one of six program carriage controversies sent to him by the Media Bureau, Steinberg objected.
“The 60-day timeframe set forth in the [Media Bureau order] cannot be achieved. This is an extremely complex proceeding involving six separate program carriage complaints, three complainants, and four [cable operators],” Steinberg wrote.
“Each of these six cases presents its own peculiar facts and, as an examination of the [Media Bureau order] will reveal, each factual situation appears to be unique and intricate, and the complaints have been vigorously contested by the [cable operators].”
The NFL Network released a statement that sought to put a more positive spin on the decision.
“NFL Network is pleased that the ALJ has rejected Comcast’s attempts to delay this proceeding through a needless appeal to the full FCC — an appeal that sought to challenge the clear legal standards that support the NFL Network’s complaint. We’re particularly glad to note that the ALJ’s order did not accept Comcast’s position that it was exempt from the statutory prohibition against discrimination because of its contract with the NFL Network.”