The National Cable Satellite Corporation, owner of C-SPAN, is the target of an antitrust lawsuit filed 11/13 by Sky Angel U.S., LLC, the Naples, Florida-based operator of the multichannel internet-cable TV service, FAVE-TV. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claims that C-SPAN violated the antitrust laws when it withdrew its programming from Sky Angel in 2009 after appearing on Sky Angel’s line up for only a few days.
The suit alleges that although C-SPAN produces public interest programming, “it ceased to act as a legitimate collaboration among competitors when it withheld C-SPAN’s programming from Sky Angel for anticompetitive purposes.” The complaint alleges that C-SPAN “harmed competition in the relevant market by depriving Sky Angel of C-SPAN’s highly valued, one-of-a-kind programming, which Sky Angel needs in order effectively to compete …”
The complaint also notes that all of Sky Angel’s competitors carry C-SPAN.
Jonathan Rubin, of DC-based Rubin PLLC, an antitrust law firm representing Sky Angel, said, “Competitors can act in concert if they have a legitimate reason. But, agreeing to withhold programming in order to stifle a new entrant into the marketplace is not a legitimate reason.”
The suit claims that C-SPAN’s Board, composed of executives from the top ten cable companies, “who authorized C-SPAN to withhold its programming from Sky Angel, hijacked the public service mission of C-SPAN’s legitimate competitor collaboration and repurposed C-SPAN as an instrument to boycott, exclude, injure and destroy Sky Angel.”
“It makes no economic sense to forego subscription fees for no legitimate business reason,” Rubin said. “That’s a classic indicator of anticompetitive intent.”
The FCC normally handles program access disputes between cable TV companies and programmers affiliated with other cable or satellite providers, but has declined to exert its authority over Sky Angel, the suit says.
The lawsuit seeks damages against C-SPAN for violating the antitrust laws and an injunction that would require C-SPAN to honor the terms of its contract with Sky Angel for ten years.