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Martin Backing TAC In Comcast Dispute

Washington – Under a ruling endorsed by Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, The America Channel would be designated a regional sports network qualified to obtain carriage from Comcast through arbitration, two FCC officials said Tuesday.

Martin’s proposal would reject a Comcast petition for declaratory ruling, which accused TAC of gaming the agency’s 2006 Adelphia merger order that included some network carriage protections for RSNs unaffiliated with either Comcast or Time Warner. TAC at one point filed an anti-trust suit to block the merger.

Under Martin’s proposal, the five FCC commissioners are being asked to reject Comcast’s petition filed in January. Comcast may appeal the FCC ruling federal court.

In an effort to obtain majority support, Martin told the other commissions that the agency would launch an inquiry hoping to firm up the definition of RSNs. While the inquiry was pending, Martin promised the FCC would not involve itself in any more TAC-Comcast disputes, the FCC officials said.

The FCC officials said it was unclear whether Martin’s RSN freeze proposal was sufficient to garner majority support.

A self-described national network that has not launched as a service, TAC transformed itself into an RSN following release of the Adelphia merger conditions in June 2006. After notifying Comcast of its decision to seek arbitration, Comcast sought relief from the FCC.

If the two ever reach arbitration, the arbitrator would first decide whether Comcast had discriminated against TAC. If TAC prevailed, then Comcast and TCA would need to put forward their best offers for the arbitrator to select.

The arbitrator’s ruling may be appealed to the FCC, TAC’s outside counsel Evan Leo said Tuesday.