FCC: Comcast Discriminated Against Tennis Channel

Published February 1, 2012

The Federal Communication Commission has validated the Tennis Channel’s complaint that Comcast illegally granted preference to its own sports channels—Versus and Golf Channel—by placing them on broadly distributed tiers rather than as part of the premium package where it had placed the Tennis Channel.

“The FCC is not interested in what best serves consumers, but in an arbitrary notion of fairness,” said Jim Lakely, co-director of the Center on the Digital Economy at The Heartland Institute, regarding the regulatory agency’s December ruling. “The FCC has no business micromanaging Comcast’s business to this level. It’s not as if Comcast didn’t carry the Tennis Channel. It did, on a premium sports package.”

Lakely added, “The federal government should not be in the business of forcing cable or satellite companies to carry any channel—and this case has now set a terrible precedent. Every struggling network will run to the FCC to force cable providers and customers to prop up their failing business plans,” he said.

‘Down in the Weeds’
The FCC fined Comcast $375,000 and ordered it to treat Tennis Channel the same as Versus and the Golf Channel. In his decision, Richard L. Sippel, the administrative law judge in the case, declared Comcast must stop discriminating against Tennis Channel in favor of Golf Channel and Versus, and that undisputed evidence establishes Comcast gives more favorable channel placement to its networks.

Comcast has indicated it will appeal the decision.
“Regulatory agencies like the FCC think they are equipped to make every decision for businesses like Comcast,” said Seton Motley, president of Less Government and editor-in-chief of StopNetRegulation.org. “Such micromanagement of the private sector, in this case, the FCC going to bat for the Tennis Channel, is so far down in the weeds that one wonders what’s next.”

Costs Passed to Consumers
“If more customers demanded the Tennis Channel be included in the basic package, it would be in Comcast’s interest to add it,” said Lakely. “That’s how the market in the premium TV industry works. The FCC is destroying the sensitivity of supply and demand,” he said.

“This case is not worthy of the FCC’s time and energy,” Lakely continued. “But the real loser here is Comcast, which has incurred legal costs and wasted staff time fighting for its basic right to run its business as it sees fit and in response to customer demand. Those costs, like all business costs, are passed down to the consumer,” he said.

“The FCC has better things to do—and consumers would be best served if it did nearly nothing,” Lakely said. “Most FCC regulations only retard the growth and investment in technology by interfering with markets that need to be freer.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.