Martin: Channel Is an 'RSN’

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Under a ruling endorsed by Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, The America Channel (TAC) would be designated a regional sports network qualified to obtain carriage from Comcast through arbitration, two agency officials said last week.

Martin’s proposal would reject a Comcast petition for declaratory ruling, which accused TAC of gaming the agency’s 2006 Adelphia Communications merger order, which included some network-carriage protections for RSNs unaffiliated with either Comcast or Time Warner Inc.

Heathrow, Fla.-based TAC at one point filed an antitrust suit to block the merger, based on unsuccessful attempts to gain carriage on Comcast or Time Warner Cable systems.

Under Martin’s proposal, the five FCC commissioners are being asked to reject Comcast’s petition, filed in January.

Comcast can appeal the FCC ruling in federal court.

In an effort to obtain majority support, Martin told the other commissioners the agency would launch an inquiry hoping to firm up the definition of an RSN.

While such an inquiry was pending, Martin promised the FCC would not involve itself in any more disputes similar to the one between TAC and Comcast, the agency officials said.

The FCC officials said it was unclear whether Martin’s RSN dispute-freeze proposal was sufficient to garner majority support.

A self-described national network that has not launched as a service, TAC transformed itself into an RSN following release of the Adelphia merger conditions in June 2006.

In May, while announcing plans to broadcast Western Athletic Conference basketball games and other sports, TAC said it has partnered with 18 NCAA Division I conferences, representing 164 universities — more than 50% of all Division I schools — to broadcast extensive football, basketball and other sports, as well as numerous conference tournaments.

After TAC, run by Doron Gorshein, notified Comcast of its decision to seek arbitration, Comcast sought relief from the FCC.

If the two companies ever get to the arbitration table, the arbitrator would first decide whether Comcast had discriminated against TAC.

If TAC prevailed, then Comcast and TAC would need to put forward their best offers for the arbitrator to select.

The arbitrator’s ruling can be appealed to the FCC, TAC outside counsel Evan Leo said last Tuesday.

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