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Comcast says government needs to stay out of programming business

July 16, 2012|By Joe Flint
  • Comcast doesn't want the government playing backseat driver.
Comcast doesn't want the government playing backseat driver. (Bloomberg )

Comcast Corp. has a message for the government: Don't tell us which channels to carry.

"The government does not -- and cannot -- tell the Washington Post what columns to carry, or what sections of the paper to put them in, or what days of the week to run them," wrote Kyle McSlarrow, president of Comcast/NBCUniversal Washington, D.C., in a blog post.

"It doesn't tell Amazon what books to sell, or to recommend to its customers," he added. " It doesn't dictate what films Netflix licenses, or features.  It doesn't specify which TV shows should be available on Hulu and which should be on Hulu Plus."

That being the case, McSlarrow said, why should regulators have any role "in determining which networks a cable operator carries, what tiers they should be placed on, what channel numbers they should be assigned, and how much cable operators (and their customers) should pay for those channels?"

McSlarrow's blog post was aimed at the Federal Communications Commission, which is expected to rule soon on a dispute that the cable giant is having with the Tennis Channel.

At issue is how Comcast offers the Tennis Channel as opposed to similar cable networks that it owns. Last December, an FCC administrative judge ruled that Comcast had discriminated against the small, independently owned Tennis Channel by putting it at a competitive disadvantage. It did so, the judge said, by not placing the Tennis Channel in the same package of channels in which Comcast sold its own Golf Network and NBC Sports Network.

No time frame has been set for the FCC to weigh in on the judge's ruling.

In his post, McSlarrow said the FCC judge's ruling misinterprets a regulation aimed at preventing cable operators from discriminating against independent cable networks.

"Though undoubtedly well-intentioned, the ALJ’s ruling was a breathtaking regulatory overreach," McSlarrow opined. He noted that Comcast was already carrying Tennis Channel in a sports package as per its agreement with the network. "Other major multichannel video distributors have made similar carriage decisions, and six of the top 20 largest video distributors refuse to carry Tennis Channel at all," he said.

McSlarrow acknowledged that it distributes Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network to more customers than Tennis Channel, but added "that’s also true of virtually every major distributor in the marketplace, even including the satellite companies that hold major equity interests in Tennis Channel."

The judge, McSlarrow said, "appears to have impermissibly conflated the concepts of discrimination and differential treatment."

Comcast fears that if the Tennis Channel wins, it will lead other programmers to charge discrimination if they don't like their channel placement.

In a statement, the Tennis Channel said, "there is nothing new in this blog post that Comcast hasn’t already argued in front of the FCC, and that hasn’t already been rejected by the ALJ, the FCC Enforcement Bureau and the FCC Media Bureau.”

RELATED:

Comcast continues to rally in Tennis Channel fight

Tennis Channel wins significant round against Comcast Corp. 

FCC bureau finds that Comcast discriminated against Tennis Channel

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