News

Tennis Channel: Another FCC Win But No Victory

2/13/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — Tennis Channel has won four calls
in its favor at the Federal Communications Commission,
the latest one coming from the agency’s enforcement
bureau last week.

That’s a nice win streak.

The only problem: The
favorable FCC decisions
have still not translated
into a federal mandate
for Comcast to treat the
independent channel the
same way it does NBC
Sports Network or Golf
Channel, two networks
in which the MSO has a
financial interest.

The latest endorsement
came in the form
of advice that the full
commission deny Comcast’s request for a stay of enforcement
of an administrative-law judge’s decision that
Comcast discriminated against Tennis Channel in favor
of those co-owned networks.

REJECTION AT NET

It was a rejection of Comcast’s claims that not granting
the stay would impinge on its First Amendment
rights and cause confusion to viewers.

Judge Richard Sippel — the Maytag repairman of
administrative law judges, given he is the only one in
residence at the FCC — has told the cable operator to
give Tennis Channel equal treatment.

That could mean moving Tennis off the sports tier
and onto the more widely viewed tier where Golf and
NBC Sports Network reside.

It could, according to the bureau, also mean moving
Golf and NBC Sports to the sports tier, or not running
any of the channels.

The enforcement bureau two weeks earlier said
Comcast should be required to comply immediately
with the ALJ decision. Tennis asked for the most recent
guidance, saying Comcast should not be able to
put off that carriage while exhausting appeals.

NO DELETION NEEDED

As Comcast has not been required to delete any programming
to implement the order, the bureau agreed
that it should be carried out now.

The bureau earlier on advised Sippel to rule,
as he ultimately did, that Comcast violated FCC
program-carriage rules by discriminating against
Tennis Channel.

Comcast is appealing the judge’s decision to the
full commission.

FCC lawyers say on background that Sippel’s decision
was effective immediately. Comcast counters
that the judge’s own decision holds it in abeyance if
Comcast files exceptions, which it has done numerous
times.

A Tennis Channel spokesperson said there have
been no conversations with Comcast about the enforcement
bureau action, but said Comcast had not
moved the channel and was not expected to.

The ball, as it were, is now in the full commission’s
court, the spokesman suggested.

September