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NFL Urges FCC to Resolve Carriage Complaint

The gridiron battle between the nation's largest cable operator and the National Football League continued Thursday as NFL Network urged the Federal Communications Commission to "quickly" resolve its program-carriage complaint against Comcast.

In comments filed Thursday at the FCC, NFL Network said the commission should be able to decide the matter soon and in its favor by directing Comcast to distribute the network on the same tier that it carries Versus and The Golf Channel, in which Comcast has financial interests.

The network's filing came in response to Comcast's June 20 response to the complaint, and it said Comcast essentially confirmed that it treated the network differently from its own sports networks.

The network said that while Golf and Versus may have been around longer and may have more live events than its network, and football programming may be available elsewhere, "None of those facts matters here because of one undisputed and undeniable fact: NFL Network’s ratings -- both for its live events and for its other programming -- are substantially higher than the comparable-program ratings of the Comcast-owned sports channels with which it competes. Comcast’s justification for its discriminatory conduct is therefore empty and unavailing.”

The NFL's complaint is essentially two-fold. It told the FCC that the cable operator discriminated against the channel by putting it on a premium digital sports tier for which customers must pay, while carrying its own sports channels on the more widely viewed analog-basic tier that costs no extra.

The NFL says Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, also dropped the network from its digital-basic tier after the league decided not to sell a package of eight regular-season games to Comcast (it decided to keep the games and put them on NFL Network to make that channel more attractive).

While the NFL wants the FCC to move quickly, Comcast want it to wait until a New York State court rules on the issue. The NFL sued Comcast in New York, saying that Comcast's move of the channel to a sports tier was a breach of contract.

Comcast responded to the NFL filing in a prepared statement: “Comcast makes NFL Network available to all of our customers on a tier of service that the NFL agreed to and negotiated by contract," senior director of corporate communications and government affairs Sena Fitzmaurice said. "Other video providers that do not own national sports channels have made similar carriage decisions to Comcast’s or, in many cases, have decided not to carry NFL Network at all. The NFL is the richest and most powerful of all sports leagues with immense market power, yet it keeps running to federal and state governments to try to force changes in a deal it actually negotiated with Comcast. The NFL has received precisely what it bargained for and needs no government assistance.”

John Eggerton
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.