Orioles Appeal to FCC for Comcast Carriage

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Mid-Atlantic Sports Network Inc. Tuesday went on the offensive against Comcast Corp. by filing a petition to the Federal Communications Commission asking that the MSO immediately carry Washington Nationals Major League Baseball games.

Citing Comcast’s “discriminatory activities,” TCR Sports Broadcasting Holding LLP -- the parent company of MASN -- asked that the FCC issue temporary injunctive relief on an emergency basis to force Comcast to air Nationals games.

TCR claimed that Comcast is in violation of the Communications Act of 1934, which prohibits companies from discriminating against carriage of competing services to protect their own network assets. The company added that Comcast requested equity in the service in return for carriage, and it has never negotiated to carry the service, among other indiscretions.

“There is an express rule that Comcast is violating by discriminating against MASN in favor of Comcast SportsNet,” TCR said. “We’re asking the commission to enforce its rules and direct Comcast to carry Nationals games that are produced by MASN.”

Comcast responded by saying that it never sought equity in MASN, adding that it supports program-carriage rules.

On Monday, MLB’s Baltimore Orioles filed a motion in Maryland Circuit Court to dismiss Comcast’s lawsuit filed in April against the team and the league for starting up a competing regional sports network.

Comcast -- which owns Comcast Sports Network Mid-Atlantic (CSN) -- filed suit alleging that the deal between the league and the Orioles to start MASN in 2007 violates CSN’s current cable agreement with the Orioles, which gives it exclusive negotiating rights to renew its deal with the Orioles through Nov. 1, 2005.

CSN also has the right to match any agreement reached between the Orioles and a third party regarding the future local pay television rights to the club’s games under the deal, which expires in 2006. The current agreement gives CSN rights to 87 regular-season Orioles games.

But in its filing Monday in Montgomery County Circuit Court, the Orioles argued that its rights belong to a holding group, TCR, and that holding group simply will retain the rights under its regional-sports-network trade name, MASN.

“TCR did not transfer any of its telecast rights to Orioles games when it sold a minority interest in itself to MLB because transfer of an equity interest in an entity that owns property is not a transfer of the entity’s property,” according to the filing.

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