Liberty Microwave steams FCC

Cabler faces high six-figure fine

WASHINGTON — Thousands of upscale New Yorkers in 19 Manhattan buildings may be looking for a new cable TV provider now that an administrative judge found that Liberty Cable — purchased last year by RCN Corp. — used unauthorized microwave links to hook up subscribers and then lied to the FCC about its actions.

The ruling specifically addresses 19 buildings, but notes that as many 93 buildings rely on unauthorized microwave links to receive cable services.

When Liberty sold itself to RCN last year, the only assets it withheld from the deal were the microwave licenses in question that are now held by Bertholdi Cable Co. — the surviving entity of Liberty Cable. Bertholdi’s sole assets are the microwave licenses, which in many cases are still being used by RCN to provide cable service.

Now, Administrative Law Judge Richard Sippel has said Bertholdi has demonstrated is not worthy of the licenses — even if it agrees to pay a $1 million fine.

Sippel rejected the fine — no matter how steep — because the Federal Communications Commission traditionally views lying as the ultimate sin. Liberty officials “attempted to deceive the commission by stating blatant mistruths to the commission,” Sippel ruled. Prominent among those executives is former Liberty topper Peter Price, who Sippel singled out several times for misleading the commission by failing to turn over info in a timely matter. The complaint originally was brought by Time Warner and Cablevision Systems — the fledgling company’s behemoth competitors.

RCN said Monday that all 19 buildings covered by Friday’s ruling still are receiving cable service by microwave. Bertholdi said it will appeal the FCC judge’s ruling. “We disagree with its conclusions and we are appealing,” spokeswoman Melissa Krantz said.

Sippel’s order reveals that Liberty had begun negotiating with FCC staffers, which could result in the company paying a fine in return for the rights to continue holding the licenses. Sippel ruled that the fine must be at least $710,000. However, Sippel said that because Liberty has been caught lying to the FCC, the agency’s own rules demand that its license to operate microwave licenses must be revoked.

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