Enforcement bureau sez judge's decision effective 'immediately'

The FCC’s enforcement bureau says Comcast should be ordered to comply “immediately” with a ruling that the cable operator place Tennis Channel on equal footing in its lineup with channels in which it has a stake, including the Golf Channel and Versus.

Last month, an administrative law judge ruled that Comcast had violated program carriage regulations when it refused to place Tennis Channel in a position similar to those of sports channels it owns. Tennis Channel argued that its placement cost it advertising revenue, and that it was placed in upper tiers even though its ratings consistently beat those of the Comcast-affiliated networks.

After the ruling, Comcast argued that it did not have to comply until its appeals to the full FCC and to the Court of Appeals were exhausted.

But in comments released Thursday, the FCC’s enforcement bureau said that carriage laws “unambiguously” show that orders from administrative law judges are effective “upon release” of the ruling. Their comments are recommendations to the full commission.

At the time of Administrative Law Judge Richard Sippel’s ruling last month, Comcast said that it “has the contractual right to distribute Tennis Channel as it does currently, and Comcast firmly believes that the exercise of that right to minimize costs to consumers is not discrimination.”

After Comcast’s merger with NBC Universal, it rebranded Versus as NBC Sports Network.

Tennis Channel said in a statement that “the rules are clear that Comcast now has to give us the same carriage that it gives to its own Golf Channel and the NBC Sports Network.”

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