Game, set, match. The FCC ruled 3-2 that Comcast discriminated against the Tennis Channel, having relegated the channel to a lower tier. As a result, Comcast was fined $375,000 and now must move the Tennis Channel within 45 days to a tier on par with the Golf Channel and NBC Sports Networks -- both of which are owned by Comcast, AdWeek reports.
This ruling would increase the channel's exposure to 18 million more households in time for the U.S. Open, which starts at the end of August. The bigger implication, though, is that this signals independent networks that they aren't "powerless to negotiate with the big pay TV distributors for more favorable channel and tier placement," AdWeek notes.
Maintaining free and open marketplaces is what this entire case has been about from the beginning. Comcast inherently enjoys a government-licensed competitive advantage, allowing it to capture consumers for its owned services. In a quarter of the country, the cable consumer has only two choices: accept what Comcast offers or move. No newspaper, broadcaster, bookstore, filmmaker, music producer, online retailer, video-film service or Internet-television provider enjoys such power. Today’s decision underscores that Comcast’s power comes with a concurrent responsibility to see to it that the freedoms of speech and expression of the diverse programmers that serve these communities are not stifled simply because they compete with networks that the sole cable provider in the marketplace happens to own.
Comcast, obviously, isn't happy with the decision. In a blog post, Kyle McSlarrow, president of Comcast/NBCUniversal in Washington, said as an outcome it is consumers who lose
To the contrary, the result of this decision is to unfairly expand Tennis Channel's distribution beyond what it negotiated with Comcast. That result addresses no consumer need and rights no competitive harm. It does not improve consumer welfare.