The FCC ruling comes one month before the Tennis Channel begins its coverage… (Julie Jacobson / Associated…)
A leading cable television association has slammed a Federal Communications Commission ruling this week that industry giant Comcast Corp. had discriminated against the small independent Tennis Channel.
The National Cable & Telecommunications Assn., and a second, nonprofit organization, described the FCC decision as an example of unnecessary government intrusion.
"Yesterday’s regrettable decision takes us down a dangerous and unnecessary regulatory path," the NCTA said in a statement. "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."
The Free State Foundation, which describes itself as a nonprofit, free market-oriented think tank, alleged in a separate statement that the FCC "continues to engage in regulatory overreach."
In a 3-2 vote along party lines, the FCC on Tuesday ordered Comcast to provide the Santa Monica based Tennis Channel with the same level of distribution as Comcast does for its two sports networks the Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network.
The ruling effectively requires the Philadelphia-based cable giant to add the Tennis Channel to about 18 million homes that receive Comcast cable service, and pay the sports channel millions of dollars more a year for its programming.
Currently, the Tennis Channel is available in 34 million homes nationwide, including fewer than 3 million homes with Comcast service.
The decision marked the first time that a major cable operator has been found in violation of federal anti-discrimination program carriage rules that were established in 1993.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and the other two Democrats on the panel — Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel — voted to uphold the decision of an administrative judge, who determined that Comcast had discriminated. Two Republican commissioners, Robert M. McDowell and Ajit Pai, dissented.
Tennis Channel chairman and chief executive Ken Solomon is a co-chairman of a fundraising committee for President Obama.
The NCTA chafed at the FCC decision, noting that the Tennis Channel entered into an agreement several years ago that allowed Comcast to place the Tennis Channel on a more exclusive sports tier, which limited the channel's reach.
"The government has now abrogated that contract, midterm, by finding that Comcast 'discriminated' against the Tennis Channel by not carrying it on a more widely purchased tier that carries two Comcast-affiliated channels that also happen to carry sports programming," the NCTA said.
"In today’s highly competitive marketplace, it is difficult to see how the government can justify this content-based trampling on the right of free speech and the freedom of contract.”
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