The FCC has dismissed a complaint filed in December by Wave Broadband against Comcast for allegedly “extorting” $3.5 million in regional sports network fees.
The FCC sided with Comcast’s argument that Wave's petition came too late because it was filed in the last month of a program distribution contract, long after the FCC’s one-year statute of limitations expired.
“Although styled as a petition for declaratory ruling, we find that there is no basis to treat Wave’s petition as a declaratory ruling matter and that it instead should be considered as a program access complaint,” said an FCC Media Bureau ruling, first reported on by Ars Technica. “As discussed below, we dismiss the Petition because Wave did not file within the time limit that our program access rule requires.”
In December, Kirkland, Washington-based Wave complained to the FCC about its carriage disagreement with Comcast’s NBCUniversal division. Wave’s carriage agreements for RSNs NBC Sports Bay Area, NBC Sports California and NBC Sports Northwest were about to expire.
Complicating renewal negotiations with Comcast is angst related to the expiring deals, which were signed back in 2013 and 2014. Wave delivers broadband and TV to around 129,000 customers in San Francisco, Sacramento, Portland and Seattle (competing directly with Comcast for telecom services in some regions).
Wave, which applies no markup to the networks it bundles for video subscribers, has delivered the NBCU RSNs via its $11-a-month “Digital Sports” add-on tier. The problem is that not enough subscribers have signed onto Digital Sports to satisfy Comcast’s minimum distribution requirements.
Wave—which is currently being acquired by a private equity group—says that with Comcast/NBCU also licensing its RSNs to platforms like Sling TV, consumers are turning to cheaper over-the-top solutions to access the NBC Sports RSNs.
Comcast wants its RSNs put into Wave’s “Expanded Content” package, which includes cable networks found in most MVPD basic-tier packages. According to Wave, 21% of all customer fees paid for Expanded Basic already go to NBCU, more than any other programmer. Wave is reluctant to further bloat the package’s price ($63.14 for Seattle customers) and incur more cord cutting.
Comcast said it offered an extension to the current deal and wants to negotiate with the new owners once the acquisition closes.
In its petition, Wave said that Comcast’s strategy "had the effect of withholding must-have regional sports programming from the largest cable competitor to Comcast Cable on the West Coast unless Wave agreed to pay a punitive ransom totaling nearly $3.5 million."