Court Ponders Tennis Petition

D.C. Circuit Contemplates Full-Court Hearing for Programmer's Complaint Vs. Comcast
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WASHINGTON — Down what looked like multiple match points, Tennis Channel could get another service game in its carriage battle with the nation’s largest cable operator.

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit signaled it will at least contemplate holding a full-court hearing on the programmer’s complaint against Comcast.

In May, a three-judge panel of the court unanimously ruled that Comcast did not violate the federal program-carriage rules or discriminate against Tennis for anti-competitive reasons by keeping it on a sports tier — per a longstanding contract — rather than the more widely-viewed tier placement the network had sought.

The decision was the first-ever program carriage complaint against a cable operator that had made it to a final judgment by the Federal Communications Commission in favor of the complainant.

In an order issued July 23 on its own motion, the court gave Comcast 15 days to respond to Tennis Channel’s petition for full-court review. Tennis may or may not get to respond to that filing. “Absent further order of the court, the court will not accept a reply to the [Comcast] response,” the court said.

A veteran attorney following the case called it a “promising sign” for Tennis Channel, but still “a long shot.”

“Three judges on the court roundly dismissed the FCC’s case on multiple independent grounds, and the Commission chose not to challenge the court’s ruling,” a Comcast spokesperson told Multichannel News. “We believe the findings of the three judge panel will be upheld if the court chooses to hear the case again.”