CSN tells of intent to protest

The 22-month-old Classic Sports Network cable service announced on Monday its intent to file a complaint with the FCC alleging that Cablevision Systems Corp. has violated federal law by attempting to coerce Classic Sports into granting Cablevision an ownership stake and exclusive market rights in exchange for carriage.

Classic Sports’ complaint is expected to be filed March 10 in compliance with the FCC’s mandatory 10-day waiting period, during which the party fielding the potential complaint is informed.

A Section 12 first

If the complaint goes through as planned, Classic Sports Network would be the first company to bring a claim under Section 12 of the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 — which added a new Section 616 to the Federal Communications Act of 1934.

Section 616 is intended to prevent cable systems and other multichannel video programming distributors from “taking undue advantage of programming vendors through various practices.” Those include “coercing vendors to grant ownership interests or exclusive distribution rights … in exchange for carriage on their systems.”

Both interests served

Indeed, ownership interest deals struck between fledgling services and cable operators have become the norm in the business, particularly with Liberty Media’s regional sports networks. It’s a fact of cable life that such alliances serve both interests.

However, the New York-based Classic Sports Network has sought to be carried on its merits rather than via systems operator investments. Launched on May 6, 1995, it is currently available in slightly more than 10 million cable homes nationally, but fewer than 50,000 of Cablevision’s 2.8 million homes across the United States.

In a Feb. 28 letter to Cablevision prexy James L. Dolan, Classic Sports Network prez Stephen D. Greenberg wrote that early on, Cablevision had been under the misimpression that Liberty Media owned CSN and attempted to snare for itself an ownership stake in the service.

Cablevision released a statement Monday afternoon that called CSN’s threatened potential complaint “baseless.”

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