Comcast Corp. has asked the Federal Communications Commission to stay its decision that the Philadelphia-based cable television giant discriminated against the independently owned Tennis Channel.
Monday’s filing by Comcast Corp. is expected to be the first step in a lengthy appeals process in the dispute over distribution that began three years ago.
Last week, in a 3-2 vote, the FCC found that Comcast had discriminated against the Santa Monica-based Tennis Channel by placing it in a more expensive sports package that limited the channel’s exposure and revenue prospects.
The Tennis Channel is available in about 3 million homes that receive Comcast Cable service.
At the same time, Comcast provided two sports channels it owns, the Golf Channel and NBC Sports Network (previously called Versus) to nearly all of its 22 million subscribers. The FCC ordered Comcast to provide the Tennis Channel with distribution comparable to the two sports channels, which would effectively increase its coverage by about 18 million homes, and force Comcast to pay Tennis Channel millions of dollars more each year in programming fees.
It was the first time that a major cable operator has been found in violation of federal anti-discrimination program carriage rules that were established in 1993.
Comcast was ordered to remedy the situation within 45 days, a window that would make the Tennis Channel available in more homes during one of the biggest tennis events of the year, the U.S. Open in New York. The channel is currently available in about 34 million homes nationally.
Monday, Comcast asked the FCC to stay its decision so that the cable company would not be required to increase the circulation for the Tennis Channel while Comcast takes its case to the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.
Comcast has long argued that the Tennis Channel was misusing the FCC by enlisting the regulatory agency to help it rewrite a contract that Tennis Channel executives signed in 2005, when Comcast agreed to provide distribution.
The FCC decision “imposes a wholly unprecedented burden on Comcast and its customers based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the controlling statute, the First Amendment, and the evidentiary record,” Comcast wrote in its 133-page petition on Monday.
“The order impermissibly permits Tennis Channel to rewrite its carriage contract years after the fact and to secure preferential treatment from Comcast under the guise of avoiding discrimination,” Comcast wrote.
Tennis Channel declined to comment.
Comcast asked the FCC to rule on its petition by Aug. 7.