Regulators were split in the potentially important ruling, but still found that Comcast hurt Tennis Channel’s ability to compete by favoring two similar services that the cable company owns: Golf Channel and Versus (now known as the NBC Sports Network). Comcast says it plans to appeal the FCC order for it to pay a $375,000 fine and within 45 days put Tennis on an equal footing with its sports services. The Comcast-owned channels typically are part of the popular expanded basic package with ESPN and USA Network — but customers who want Tennis must pay an additional $5 or more each month for the Sports Tier that also includes NFL RedZone and ESPN Classic. The FCC agreed with Tennis’ claim that this was a form of discrimination. “Today’s decision underscores that Comcast’s [market] power comes with a concurrent responsibility to see to it that the freedoms of speech and expression of the diverse programmers that serve these communities are not stifled simply because they compete with networks that the sole cable provider in the marketplace happens to own”, Tennis Channel said.
But Comcast/NBCUniversal’s Washington, DC President Kyle McSlarrow says the decision would overturn a carriage deal that Tennis “freely negotiated”. He adds that the channel “does not merit the same carriage as Golf Channel and NBCSports Network” and the ruling would just “drive up programming costs and enrich a group of wealthy investors in the Tennis Channel”. It will argue in its appeal that the FCC “misreads the statute of limitations, and violates Comcast’s First Amendment rights.”
Two Republican members of the Commission, Robert McDowell and Ajit Pai, dissented saying there was insufficient evidence that Comcast’s decisions were “discriminatorily motivated”. They add: “When one compares apples to apples—that is, by comparing Comcast’s distribution of Tennis Channel to that of other major [pay TV providers] with no ownership interest in Tennis Channel—there is no meaningful difference”.