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Dish Network takes aim at Comcast over Philadelphia sports channel

A long-running fight between satellite broadcaster Dish Network and Comcast over the cable company's Philadelphia sports channel is heating up again.

At issue is Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, a cable network that carries local sports teams including the 76ers and Flyers, which are both owned by Comcast. Dish Network and DirecTV, the nation's other major satellite broadcaster, want to carry the channel in Philadelphia. Comcast, which allows Verizon and other distributors to carry the network, has not struck a deal with either Dish or DirecTV.

Dish and DirecTV have again recently approached Comcast about getting access to the sports channel, no doubt hoping that the cable company's need to get regulatory approval for its proposed deal to acquire NBC Universal might make it more willing to let the satellite operators carry the channel.

So far though, no deals have been struck. A loophole in Federal Communications Commission regulations that allowed Comcast to keep carriage of SportsNet Philadelphia off of the satellite broadcasters was recently rewritten, but the cable company has said that the change in the rules does not mean it automatically has to sell the service to Dish and/or DirecTV.

In a statement released Friday, Dish said, "[I]t is this type of anti-competitive conduct that reinforces our argument that the merger between Comcast and NBCU poses a grave threat to competition in the multichannel video market."

Comcast SportsNet fired back that it "remains willing" to discuss carriage of Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. It argued that it is not violating FCC rules, countering that the change in the regulation only allows a distributor to demand access to a channel when it can show a "competitive injury" and that there is "no evidence" Dish has suffered such an injury.

DirecTV said it is still waiting for a response from Comcast on its request to carry SportsNet Philadelphia and declined further comment.

Battles between satellite broadcasters and cable operators such as Comcast over exclusive content are not unusual. Dish has exclusive programming, as does DirecTV. However, given the concerns of media concentration and the potential power a Comcast-NBC Universal entity could have, such feuds are now taking on greater significance. 

One sticking point for Comcast that its satellite rivals might play up is that it owns sports franchises and the cable network that carries the teams. DirecTV may have exclusive content from the National Football League, but it does not own the NFL.

-- Joe Flint

 
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