Mediation Anyone? Comcast, Tennis Channel Agree to Carriage Umpire

Comcast and The Tennis Channel have agreed to try
mediation of their carriage dispute before trying their luck before an FCC
administrative law judge.

That is according to a one-page filing with the
FCC. They have agreed to complete that mediation by Nov. 24.

The FCC earlier this month designated TennisChannel's program access complaint for a hearing before the judge,
saying that there are "substantial and material question of fact as to
whether Comcast has engaged in conduct that violates the program carriage
provisions of the ACT and the Commission's rules."

The FCC has not answered those questions, but it
wants a judge to help it do so.

Comcast had said earlier this month it was
"look[ing] forward to refuting this groundless complaint in a full
evidentiary hearing before an Administrative Law Judge at the FCC," but
the judge also gave the companies until this week to decide whether to seek
mediation first. Both parties had to agree, and both did.

Tennis Channel argues that Comcast is favoring its
own similarly situated networks Versus and Golf Channel by placing them on more
widely viewed tiers. The complaint stems from Comcast's decision to keep the
Tennis Channel on a premium sports tier rather than a more broadly distributed
programming tier.

The decision to seek mediation could be seen as a D.C.-friendly move.
In the wake of the Fox/Cablevision retrans dispute, regulators and
legislators by the scores have encouraged parties in carriage disputes to seek
outside help to prevent consumers from being the injured third party in such
impasses, though the issue has been primarily about access to TV stations.

"We're glad that they're talking and hope they can work it out," said Public knowledge spokesman Art Brodsky, who said he was suprised the complaint had not been settled by now given Comcast's desire to get the NBCU joint venture approved in Washington, something he had speculated about in a blog posting about the complaint.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.