EchoStar Can't Have Comcast SportsNet


A federal court Tuesday upheld a Federal Communications Commission ruling
in 1999 that allowed Comcast Corp. to withhold Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia
from EchoStar Communications Corp.

The decision, handed down by a three-judge panel of the U.S Court of Appeals,
stated that the FCC was correct both in dismissing EchoStar's complaint and in
denying a motion that would have required Comcast to substantiate alleged cost

Comcast SportsNet is the cable home of the National Hockey League's
Philadelphia Flyers and the National Basketball Association's Philadelphia
76ers. Comcast owns the teams and the regional sports channel.

In late 1997, EchoStar sought access to SportsNet, but Comcast refused.
Because the network is distributed terrestrially, rather than by satellite,
Comcast said it was entitled to withhold the channel under FCC program-access

In 1999, the FCC rejected EchoStar's complaint. The agency said SportsNet was
not a satellite network covered by the rules, and no evasion of the rules
occurred because the channel was a new service and it showed that it would save
hundreds of thousands of dollars per year by opting terrestrial delivery.

In a 10-page opinion, Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg said the FCC interpreted the
program-access rules based on a reasonable reading of the 1992 Cable Act.

'Because the decision of the commission is reasonable and is supported by
substantial evidence, EchoStar's petition for review is denied,' Ginsburg

A Comcast spokesman declined comment on the ruling.

EchoStar spokesman Marc Lumpkin said his company was disappointed with
the ruling.

'The court's decision could open the floodgates to increased evasion of the
program-access rules,' he said. ' Cable operators may increasingly use
terrestrial program delivery to avoid selling key content to satellite-TV
providers and other cable competitors.'