News

NFL Net Cries Foul to FCC

5/09/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

The NFL Network filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission last Tuesday that accused Comcast of discriminating against the league-owned sports channel in violation of equal treatment requirements in federal law.

NFL Network’s complaint alleges that the Philadelphia-based cable operator is violating the law because Comcast-owned sports networks receive wider distribution on its cable systems than it is willing to extend to the National Football League-owned channel.

“NFL Network is asking the FCC to order Comcast to stop discriminating and to carry NFL Network on a basis that does not impair its ability to compete fairly,” NFL Network said a statement.

Pursuant to an agreement that is the subject of ongoing litigation, Comcast carries NFL Network on a sports programming tier that all customers may purchase, but only about 1 million Comcast subscribers have done so. NFL Network, by contrast, is demanding to be carried on Comcast’s most widely purchased cable programming tier, seen in nearly all 24 million Comcast households.

“Comcast makes the NFL Network available to all of our customers on a tier of service that the NFL agreed to by contract,” said Comcast senior director of corporate communications and government affairs Sena Fitzmaurice in a statement.

Comcast, NFL Network said, was additionally discriminating against the channel because the league didn’t agree to let Comcast carry NFL games on a Comcast-owned sports channel.

“This retaliatory behavior is a separate violation of the 1992 Cable Act,” the NFL Network said.

The NFL Network said a potential deal to sell games to Comcast collapsed after Comcast insisted on a broadcast TV blackout in the home markets of the teams on the field.

In a declaration attached to the complaint, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the NFL refused to license the eight-game package to Comcast several months before he resigned and turned the reins over to current NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Tagliabue said that after Comcast got the news, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said, “Your relationships with the cable industry are going to get very interesting.”

Tagliabue added, “In retrospect, I believe that Mr. Roberts’ statement foreshadowed Comcast’s retaliation against the [NFL] for the league’s refusal to license the eight-game package to Comcast.”

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