FCC Enforcement Bureau Recommends Denying Comcast Request to Stay Tennis Channel Decision
Comcast had claimed that enforcement would violate its constitutional rights
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/8/2012 1:19:57 PM
Comcast had claimed that enforcement would violate its constitutional rights and confuse and frustrate viewers if Comcast had to immediately alter its lineup, according to the FCC.
The bureau said there was no merit to either claim. "The public interest would be served by providing broad public access to additional cable programming where, as here, there has been a sufficient showing of discrimination. Comcast was afforded its due process by participating in a full and fair adjudicatory proceeding, and it is now the public's turn to get that to which it is entitled," the bureau said. "A stay of the [Initial Decision] would serve only Comcast's pecuniary interests."
"Despite being ordered to treat Tennis Channel the same as its own similarly situated Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network (Versus), Comcast's filings and its continuing discrimination demonstrate that it's not challenging whether or not it violated Section 616; it's challenging the statute itself and the Commission's authority to enforce it," said Tennis Channel in a statement. "Whether or not it wants to see the rules changed is irrelevant to the end result of the hearing. Tennis Channel won, and Comcast must abide by the FCC regulations in place today."
Judge Richard Sippel, in rendering the decision that Comcast had discriminated against Tennis Channel in favor of Versus and Golf channel (in which it has a financial interest), said that it was not a mandate of any particular level of distribution. He said that meant that Comcast could carry Tennis on any tier, or even not carry it at all, so long as it did the same with Versus and Golf. "The remedy imposed in this order does not, as Comcast Cable erroneously contends, infringe upon Comcast Cable's editorial discretion by 'forcing broader carriage' of Tennis Channel," Sippel said in the decision.
With the recommended denial of the stay, Comcast must now look for a decision from the FCC Commissioners on its appeal of the initial decision. The company has made it clear it thinks the FCC judge was way off base.
As it made clear last December when the ALJ decision was announced, Comcast is ready for a fight.
"Comcast has the contractual right to distribute Tennis Channel as it does currently, and Comcast firmly believes that the exercise of that right to minimize costs to consumers is not discrimination," it said. Many other companies with no ownership interest in Tennis Channel have made similar decisions and some refuse to carry Tennis Channel at all. Moreover, this decision purports to supersede an existing contract between two private parties, which is unprecedented in the program carriage context. The ruling is only an initial decision, and is subject to further review by the full Commission and then, if needed, the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The FCC made some changes to its program carriage rules back in August to speed complaints and appeals, but those did not apply to complaints, like Tennis Channels, already in the pipeline.
As much as I prefer viewing tennis over golf, I do question the validity of forcing Comcast to give the tennis channel parity with the golf channel. To my knowledge, no other cable channel does that. My local cable provider puts the golf channel in the standard tier, and relegates the tennis channel to "set top box hell".
viewer - 2/9/2012 11:24:14 PM EST
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