Comcast Sues FCC Over Tennis Channel Distribution Ruling

Comcast Corp. sued the Federal Communications Commission to block a ruling mandating distribution of the Tennis Channel on its cable systems that it said may cost it hundreds of millions of dollars.

Comcast, in a lawsuit filed today in Washington, asked a federal appeals court to throw out the FCC ruling, which found the cable operator improperly discriminated against the Tennis Channel by making it available to subscribers who pay a higher subscription rate.

The FCC required Comcast to distribute the Tennis Channel to the same number of subscribers who don’t pay the additional rate and receive two of its own sports channels. Comcast, the largest U.S. cable company, called the ruling arbitrary and unconstitutional and said it would be forced to make payments to Tennis Channel for the programming.

“The order requires Comcast to increase substantially its distribution of Tennis Channel, such that Tennis Channel will reach an equal number of Comcast’s subscribers as two of Comcast’s affiliated networks, Golf Channel and Versus,” Comcast said in its complaint. Versus is now called the NBC Sports Network.

The FCC also assessed $375,000 against Philadelphia-based Comcast. The agency on July 24 gave Comcast 45 days to comply with the distribution order.

Investors in the closely held Tennis Channel include Apollo Partners, Bain Capital Ventures, Battery Ventures, CCMP Capital Advisors, Columbia Capital, DND Capital Partners LLC and former players Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, according to the channel’s website.

Neil Grace, an FCC spokesman, declined to comment on the lawsuit filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. That court handles reviews of many federal regulatory decisions.

‘Accomplish Nothing’

Sena Fitzmaurice, a spokeswoman for Comcast, said the filing speaks for itself and pointed to statements made by Kyle McSlarrow, the Washington president of Comcast/NBCUniversal, when the FCC issued its ruling.

“The decision will accomplish nothing other than to drive up programming costs and enrich a group of wealthy investors in the Tennis Channel,” McSlarrow said in an e-mailed statement.

The case is Comcast Cable Communications LLC v. Federal Communications Commission, 12-01337, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Washington).

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