Washington -- The Federal Communications Commission backed
Comcast Corp. last week in a program-access dispute with EchoStar Communications Corp.
EchoStar alleged that Comcast had illegally withheld
Comcast SportsNet, its regional-sports network that serves the Philadelphia area with
National Hockey League and National Basketball Association games. Comcast owns the
NHL's Flyers and the NBA's 76ers.
But the FCC said the network was not covered by mandatory
program-sale rules because SportsNet is not delivered by satellite, but instead by
microwave and fiber, to cable operators and wireless cable operators in Philadelphia.
The FCC said Congress specifically limited program-access
rules to satellite-delivered programming at least 5 percent-owned by cable operators. The
commission also said that based on the "totality of the circumstances," it did
not believe that Comcast's decision to distribute SportsNet by terrestrial means was
"an evasion of our rules."
National Cable Television Association president Decker
Anstrom said in Senate testimony last week that his industry would oppose a broader
Assuming that it wins congressional authorization, EchoStar
is planning to offer local-TV signals to dish-owners located in the markets of those
stations. Legislation to provide such authority is pending in the Senate.
EchoStar chairman Charlie Ergen testified that he was
concerned that cable operators will use their market power to sign exclusive
retransmission-consent deals with TV stations in an effort to block EchoStar's access
In response, Anstrom told the Senate Anti-Trust
Subcommittee that current FCC rules ban exclusive retransmission deals.
However, Ergen said a TV station so inclined could skirt
the exclusivity ban by signing retransmission-consent deals with cable operators and
wireless cable operators.
"An exclusivity ban doesn't work," Ergen