Bureau volley Tennis Channel order to FCC

Officials say the commission should reject Comcast's stay of its order

The FCC’s enforcement bureau is recommending the commission reject an effort by Comcast to stay an order that it place Tennis Channel on the same tier as the sports channels it owns or in which it has an investment interest.

An administrative law judge ruled in December that Comcast was discriminating against independently-owned Tennis Channel by refusing to put it on the same region of the channel lineup as Golf Channel and Versus (now the NBC Sports Network), Comcast has requested a stay of the decision pending appeal to the FCC’s commissioners or to the federal appellate court.

But P. Michele Ellison, chief of the enforcement bureau, wrote in a filing along with two FCC officials that, based on the mandate from Congress and the FCC, “If anything is to be drawn from their collective voice, it is that where a cable carrier has been found to have engaged in affiliation-based discrimination, the public interest manifestly requires an immediate remedy notwithstanding Comcast’s claim to the contrary.”

Comcast argued that its constitutional rights were violated, and that a stay would prevent confusion among customers if its channel lineup were altered to accommodate Tennis Channel.

However, the enforcement bureau noted that “cable companies modify their channel lineups with relative frequency.”

Comcast had no comment on the bureau’s filing, but at the time of the ruling it said 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.”

Tennis Channel said in a statement, “Despite being ordered to treat Tennis Channel the same as its own similarly situated Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network (Versus), Comcast’s filings and its continuing discrimination demonstrate that it’s not challenging whether or not it violated Section 616; it’s challenging the statute itself and the Commission’s authority to enforce it. Whether or not it wants to see the rules changed is irrelevant to the end result of the hearing. Tennis Channel won, and Comcast must abide by the FCC regulations in place today.”