FCC orders Comcast to put Tennis Channel on general-audience tier

The FCC has told Comcast to offer Tennis Channel on a general-audience channel tier, not just in a premium package.
The FCC has told Comcast to offer Tennis Channel on a general-audience channel tier, not just in a premium package. (AP)
Posted: July 27, 2012

In a sharp defeat for Comcast Corp., the Federal Communications Commission sanctioned the cable giant over its treatment of the independent 24-hour Tennis Channel.

The decision requires Comcast to place the Tennis Channel on a general-audience channel tier on its cable system so 20 million to 23 million subscribers can view it without paying an extra charge.

The all-tennis channel is distributed to only about 2.7 million Comcast subscribers on the special-interest sports package.

Broader distribution will be a boon to the Tennis Channel and could result in an additional $38 million a year in revenue.

The FCC, in the order publicly released Tuesday evening, said Comcast has 45 days to comply. As part of the sanctions for discriminating against the Tennis Channel, the federal agency also fined the cable company $375,000.

Comcast fought the Tennis Channel at the FCC over the last two years and said that the federal regulator's order was "dramatic regulatory overreach" and that it would appeal to the federal courts.

Comcast is likely to seek a stay to avoid complying with the FCC order while the court case is litigated.

The FCC's 3-2 vote was along party lines, with Democrats voting for it, Republicans voting against.

"The majority ruling misapplies the statutory standards for discrimination and competitive harm ... and tramples on Comcast's First Amendment rights," Kyle McSlarrow, president of Comcast/NBCUniversal's Washington office, said in a statement. McSlarrow is the former head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

Comcast also said the FCC action would boost cable bills. Tennis Channel is paid 16 cents a month for each subscriber it's distributed to, according to industry figures.

The issue has been brewing in Washington since January 2010, when the California-based Tennis Channel said it should be placed on the same level of Comcast cable service as the Comcast-owned Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network, the former Versus. Both Golf and Versus were distributed broadly on the Comcast cable system.

The Tennis Channel based its argument on the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992, which says that cable operators are not allowed to favor programming channels they own over programming channels they don't own.

"We are thrilled for our business," said Ken Solomon, chairman and chief executive officer of Tennis Channel.

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

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