Judge sends Comcast-NFL Network case to trial

Posted: November 21, 2008

The likelihood of the NFL Network's making it onto a Comcast Corp. general-interest cable package for this football season now seems about the same as the Eagles' chance of making the Super Bowl.

An administrative law judge for the Federal Communications Commission said in a ruling issued yesterday that he would hold a trial on the contentious issue between Comcast and the NFL Network and that a proposed 60-day window to decide the matter proposed by the FCC was unreasonable.

The FCC had asked him to approve a decision that would force Comcast to carry the network on a general-interest package, which Comcast opposes.

The FCC judge's order indicates that he is taking the matter all the way back to the opening kickoff, which is deciding whether Comcast is discriminating against the NFL Network.

The NFL Network, which is owned by professional football franchise owners, contends that Comcast treats it differently from Comcast-owned sports channels Golf and Versus.

Comcast says it's not discriminating, because it carries the NFL Network on its sports package, which costs an additional $6 or $7 a month. If customers want the NFL Network, they should pay extra for it, Comcast says. The NFL Network has rights to eight live NFL games.

The broader issue before the FCC law judge is complicated and involves other carriage disputes and cable companies. Comcast is not commenting on the decision, but some say they believe that a trial could take six months or longer.

The NFL Network said in a statement that it was pleased with the judge's decision and noted that the judge "did not accept Comcast's position that it was exempt from the statutory prohibition against discrimination because of its contract with the NFL Network."

Meanwhile, Philadelphia fans with Comcast service do not have to worry about the Eagles vs. Arizona Cardinals game on Thanksgiving, which will be shown on the NFL Network.

The 8 p.m. game, which is being played in Philadelphia, will be broadcast on free TV on WPVI, the ABC affiliate. Outside the Philadelphia TV market, though, the game will appear on the NFL Network.

Contact staff writer Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

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