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FCC steps in Comcast, Tennis Channel dispute

Cable giant says their deal allows carriage on premium tier

NEW YORK -- While it continues to review Comcast's proposed acquisition of a majority stake in NBC Universal, the FCC is also looking to step in to resolve a long-running carriage dispute between the cable giant and the Tennis Channel.

The FCC on Tuesday issued an order saying that if the two sides don't agree to outside bargaining by Oct. 15, they face a hearing on Oct. 18 before an FCC administrative law judge.

The Tennis Channel in January filed an FCC complaint about Comcast, alleging the company is discriminating against networks it doesn't own.

The complaint focused on Comcast's carriage of the channel on a premium sports tier, for which subscribers must pay extra, highlighting that the cable operator carries its own Versus and Golf Channel networks on its basic tier.

Comcast executives have signaled the tennis network is trying to use critics' concerns about the NBC Universal deal as leverage to broaden its reach on Comcast.

A Comcast spokeswoman called the complaint "groundless" and said the company looks forward to refuting it in front of the FCC judge.

"Our contract with Tennis Channel, which the network freely negotiated and signed in 2005, specifically permits us to carry Tennis Channel as part of our sports entertainment package, where we - like many other distributors - currently offer it to our customers," she said.