FCC Judge Sides With Tennis Channel in Comcast Carriage Dispute

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"We respectfully disagree with the initial decision" of an administrative law judge at the FCC, a representative of the cable giant said.

NEW YORK - The independent Tennis Channel has won a key round in a long-running carriage dispute with cable giant Comcast Corp.

Late last year, the two failed to resolve a program dispute with the help of a mediator and had to turn to an administrative trial at the FCC.

On Tuesday, FCC administrative law judge Richard Sippel released his initial decision that sided with the Tennis Channel, ordered it to pay $375,000 to the government and stop discriminating against the network "vis-a-vis its similarly situated affiliates, Golf Channel and Versus, in terms and conditions of video program distribution."

"We respectfully disagree with the initial decision," Sena Fitzmaurice, vp, government communications at Comcast said in a statement. "Comcast has the contractual right todistribute Tennis Channel as it does currently, and Comcast firmly believes that the exercise of that right to minimize costs to consumers is not discrimination."

She added that the ruling is only an initial decision and subject to further review by the full Commission and then, if needed, by the U.S. Court of Appeals. "We believe it is wrong for Tennis Channel to use the government to impose higher costs and prices on private enterprise and consumers and we look forward to the review process," Fitzmaurice said.

The dispute has been going on for a while, with the Tennis Channel, currently available to Comcast customers as part of a higher-priced sports tier, arguing it should get broader distribution just like Comcast's Golf Channel and Versus, which are on the cable giant's basic tier and therefore available to all customers.

Comcast has consistently said that Tennis Channel agreed to being carried on the sports tier and that other distributors offer it on similar or even more exclusive tiers.

Sippel said in his decision that the Tennis Channel "has satisfied its burden of proving that Comcast Cable engaged in discrimination in the selection, terms or conditions of carriage on the basis of its non-affiliation with Tennis Channel." He also ruled that Comcast "unreasonably restrained" the channel from competing fairly. 

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