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FCC bureau finds that Comcast discriminated against Tennis Channel

July 11, 2011 |  3:50 pm

The Federal Communications Commission enforcement bureau is recommending that cable giant Comcast Corp. be sanctioned for unfairly using its market muscle to squeeze the small independent Tennis Channel. Novak Djokovic wins Wimbledon

The Santa Monica-based Tennis Channel long has asserted it suffered discrimination and lost revenue because Comcast,  the nation's largest cable television operator, with 23 million customers, has refused to add the sports network to a more widely distributed package of channels.

Key to its case has been testimony that Comcast favored two similar sports channels that the Philadelphia cable company owns -- the Golf Channel and Versus -- over the Tennis Channel. Comcast provides better financial terms and greater exposure for its two channels.

Comcast has denied the charges. It has argued that adding the Tennis Channel to one of its most popular and least expensive packages would be a costly proposition with little benefit to its large base of subscribers, most of whom are not avid tennis fans.

On Tuesday, the two companies plan to make their oral arguments to an administrative law judge in Washington who has been presiding over the case. The judge then will submit his decision to the five-member Federal Communications Commission, which will make the final determination.

The Tennis Channel, however, has received a favorable call from an influential linesman.  

On Friday, an attorney for the FCC's enforcement bureau wrote that Comcast has constructed an uneven playing field. Attorney Gary Oshinsky wrote that he believed Comcast willfully violated the government rules that prevent cable operators from offering sweetheart deals to its own channels that discriminate against competitors.

"Comcast's discriminatory conduct unreasonably restrained the ability of Tennis Channel to compete fairly," Oshinsky concluded. He recommended that the government require Comcast to make the Tennis Channel more widely available and pay a $375,000 penalty for "deliberate anti-competitive conduct."

"The Bureau submits that Tennis Channel has satisfied its burden of demonstrating that Comcast has discriminated against Tennis Channel in video programming distribution," Oshinsky wrote.

 Comcast declined to comment on the enforcement bureau's findings.

-- Meg James

Photo: Serbian star Novak Djokovic holds the trophy after beating Spain's Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon this month. Credit: Glyn Kirk / AFP/Getty Images

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