The Madison Square Garden Co. was ordered to make its MSG and MSG-Plus high-definition regional sports channels available to Verizon’s FiOS television service in the company’s namesake venue’s catchment area. The Federal Communications Commission made the ruling, saying that refusal to make the channels available was unfair under program access rules and was “significantly hindering … a competing video service.” Cablevision/Madison Square Garden immediately stated its intention to file suit challenging the decision on the grounds that FCC had misinterpreted the facts.

MSG was given 30 days to make the networks available to both AT&T and Verizon on “reasonable terms and conditions.” Verizon and AT&T had separately filed formal complaints in 2009 against Cablevision Systems Corp., which was owner and operator of Madison Square Garden and its properties from 1997 until February 2010, asserting they were violating access rights.

Cablevision permitted Verizon to carry the standard-definition versions of the channels but had not made the high-definition versions available. FCC’s Media Bureau said the two channels are separate entities for access purposes.

Mike Glover, Verizon senior vice president and deputy general counsel, said in a statement: “The Federal Communications Commission’s decision creates new opportunities for consumers and video competition. Consumers have made it clear they want a quality alternative to the cable incumbent, and that regional sports networks in high-definition are an important part of the video-service experience. With this FCC ruling, consumers who have chosen or want to choose a video-service competitor, like Verizon FiOS, will gain access to MSG and MSG-Plus in HD, giving fans of the Knicks, Rangers, Sabres and other teams new video choices that best meets their needs. As well, competition will be on a more level playing field in the New York/New Jersey region. Verizon looks forward to working with MSG to make these sports networks available in high-definition soon.”

AT&T also issued a statement, saying: “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 to our customers this ‘must have’ content, and enhancing AT&T’s U-Verse service to better compete against the cable companies. We are pleased the FCC has resolved this dispute in favor of competition and consumers.”

Cablevision dissented in a statement of its own, that said: “Today’s disappointing rulings do not appear to be based on the facts. 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. New York is the most competitive market in the country and this decision only hurts fair competition and consumers. 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.”

Story updated to correct a typographical error that gave an incorrect impression of the corporate relationships.

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Photo by flickr user Marlon E (sjsharktank), used under Creative Commons license