Tennis Channel advances in its discrimination case against Comcast
The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday afternoon granted the Tennis Channel's request to review its case that cable giant Comcast Corp. discriminated against the independent sports network.
Comcast makes its own sports channels, including the Golf Channel and Versus, available to all of its customers. But the Santa Monica-based and privately-owned Tennis Channel maintains that Comcast unfairly put it at a disadvantage by offering it as part of a more costly package of sports channels, limiting distribution, which costs consumer more and has fewer subscribers.
In its 17-page order, the FCC said that "there are substantial and material questions of fact as to whether Comcast has engaged in conduct that violates the program carriage provisions ... and the Commission’s rules. We therefore initiate this hearing proceeding."
The review comes at an awkward time for Comcast, which is depending upon the FCC to approve its proposed merger with NBC Universal. Critics contend that a Comcast-controlled NBC Universal would give too much power to the Philadelphia-based company, which it could use to favor its own cable networks at the expense of competitors.
The Tennis Channel applauded the ruling.
"We look forward to presenting our full case, and we are confident that when the matter is finally resolved, Comcast will have been found definitively to have illegally discriminated against Tennis Channel and in favor of its owned sports services," the channel said in a statement.
For its part, Comcast said Tennis Channel agreed to be placed on the sports tier when Comcast helped launch the channel five years ago. It also said that many large cable operators, not just Comcast, offer the Tennis Channel in a more-exclusive tier.
“We look forward to refuting this groundless complaint in a full evidentiary hearing before an Administrative Law Judge at the FCC," Sena Fitzmaurice, a spokeswoman for Comcast, said in a statement. "Comcast currently makes the Tennis Channel available to nearly every home we serve. Far from discriminating against Tennis Channel, we are fully honoring the terms of our agreement with Tennis Channel and plan to continue carrying the network for our customers and tennis fans.”
— Meg James