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Comcast scores stay of FCC order in Tennis Channel fight

August 24, 2012|By Joe Flint
  • The Tennis Channel just lost a set in its fight with Comcast. (Above: Serena Williams)
The Tennis Channel just lost a set in its fight with Comcast. (Above: Serena… (Associated Press )

So much for game, set, match.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has put the brakes on the Federal Communications Commission's order last month requiring cable giant Comcast to make the Tennis Channel available to all of its subscribers.

Comcast is seeking to overturn an FCC ruling that it had discriminated against the Tennis Channel by not making it available to the same number of its subscribers that receive Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network, which it owns.

"We are pleased the Court of Appeals has recognized the serious issues raised by the FCC’s unprecedented Tennis Channel decision and granted our request to stay the FCC’s action, sparing millions of our customers needless disruption," Comcast said in a statement. 

The Tennis Channel said it was disappointed by the decision, but added that it believes that the court will ultimately side with the FCC.

The Tennis Channel is currently carried by Comcast on a specialty tier of sports channels that reach about three million of Comcast's 22 million subscribers. It convinced the FCC that it deserved the same placement Comcast gives sports channels it owns, such as Golf and NBC Sports Network, both of which are availably to most of its customers.

FCC rules require that a pay-TV distributor that also owns programming, such as Comcast, not play favorites with channels it owns versus similar channels.

Comcast has countered that Tennis Channel was using the FCC to get out of a contract it didn't like and that it was not being discriminated against by the cable operator.

"Comcast has carried the Tennis Channel for more than seven years under a contract Tennis Channel freely negotiated, which this government action would now override," said Comcast/NBCUniversal Washington President Kyle McSlarrow at the time of the FCC's ruling.

The cable industry has also sided with Comcast in the fight.

"For the first time, the full Commission has intervened to rewrite a private, arms-length contract and dictate the terms and conditions of carriage for a particular programming network," said the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn., the chief lobbying arm of the industry. 

Earlier this week, Comcast began alerting its subscribers that don't receive the Tennis Channel that it would be added to their service next month. Now, with its stay granted, Comcast won't have to add the channel until the next round in court plays out.

ALSO:

Comcast prepares to boost Tennis Channel's reach 

Comcast begins appeals process in FCC Tennis Channel ruling

Tennis Channel triumphs over Comcast in FCC discrimination case

Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.

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