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The America Channel Is a Regional Sports Network, Says FCC

The Federal Communications Commission ruled that The America Channel is a regional sports network, which means that the channel can invoke arbitration in its attempt to get carriage by top cable operator Comcast.

Originally planned as a lifestyle network, TAC failed to gain cable carriage, with founder Doron Gorshein complaining to Congress that Comcast refused to make room for his channel while favoring networks in which it had a financial interest.

Comcast filed a petition for a declaratory ruling that TAC was not an RSN, that it billed itself as a national network and that in fact it wasn't yet a network at all since it wasn't on the air. (TAC said it has carriage deals with “90% of the telcos.”) The FCC rejected that petition Tuesday night.

After unsuccessfully suing to block the purchase of Adelphia by Comcast and Time Warner, TAC added college sports programming and sought arbitration in its carriage dealings with Comcast, invoking a condition of the Adelphia merger that required such arbitration with RSNs.

But while granting the arbitration to TAC, the FCC also decided to suspend that arbitration option for other unaffiliated sports programmers (except the Time Warner Cable/Mid-Atlantic Sports Network arbitration, which the FCC made a condition of the Adelphia deal), saying that the commission would readdress the issue in a proceeding it opened two weeks ago into possible changes to the program carriage regime.

Comcast senior director of corporate communications Sena Fitzmaurice responded to the FCC ruling: "Although the order finds that TAC met the technical definition of an 'RSN' under the Adelphia order, we are gratified that the commission has suspended the ambiguous arbitration condition, acknowledged that the order's RSN definition is both confusing and inconsistent with industry standards and folded this issue into the industrywide program-carriage context.  We are comfortable proceeding to arbitration with this one potential channel and remain confident in our business positioning with respect to the America Channel." 

If the arbitrator does require carriage, Comcast won't out any money. According to a source, TAC was seeking three years of free carriage.