FCC Orders Cablevision to Hand HD Sports Programming Over to Competitors

Long-running fight over MSG Networks could still continue

Subscribers to AT&T U-Verse and Verizon FiOS in the New York area will soon be able to view some of their favorite New York sports teams, including the New York Giants, Knicks, Rangers and Islanders, in high definition.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission told Cablevision that it has 30 days to make the HD feeds of its MSG and MSG+ channels available to the two upstart pay TV companies, which compete against Cablevision in the market. 

"The commission has concluded that HD programming is growing in significance to consumers and that consumers do not consider the standard definition version of a particular channel to be an adequate substitute for the HD version," the FCC said in its order.

The ruling is just the latest twist in a feud between Cablevision and other pay TV providers that dates back to 2009, when AT&T and Verizon separately filed against Cablevision for withholding its HD sports content, which the two companies considered vital programming.

While Cablevision provided its standard definition programming, it considered its HD content off-limits. It refused to comply with a January 2010 FCC ruling in which the commission said it had to provide the HD channels, and appealed the FCC's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. A year later, the court ruled in favor of the FCC, paving the way for Thursday's order.

"The FCC's decision means that Cablevision no longer can withhold popular programming, such as HD sports programming, from its competitors. We look forward to bringing our customers this 'must-have' content, and enhancing AT&T's U-Verse service to better compete against the cable companies," Bob Quinn, who leads AT&T's federal regulatory group, said in a statement.

True to form, Cablevision isn't taking the FCC's decision lying down, and it will try the courts again. In a statement, it said, "The data clearly demonstrates that there has been no competitive harm to the nation's two largest phone companies as a result of not having two HD channels they already receive in SD. . . . Instead of competing on the merits in the marketplace, Verizon and AT&T are manipulating federal law to gain an unfair advantage and we have every intention of pursuing relief in the courts."