Dish Network to file complaint with FCC that Comcast is blocking access to Philly sports

By Deborah Yao, AP
Friday, July 30, 2010

Dish to FCC: Comcast blocking Philly sports access

PHILADELPHIA — Dish Network Corp. said Friday it’s planning to file a complaint soon with federal regulators against Comcast Corp. for its refusal to provide access to a sports channel that airs games by the Philadelphia 76ers, Phillies and Flyers.

The satellite TV company asked Comcast last month to let it carry Comcast SportsNet Phildelphia on its lineup, but Comcast declined to do so in a letter sent to Dish on Monday. Comcast developed and owns the regional sports network, as well as the Sixers and Flyers.

Dish said it will complain to the Federal Communications Commission, which in January had closed a loophole that let Comcast and other owners of content block access to certain programming.

While content owners generally cannot stop competitors from getting access to its channels, there has been an exception since 1992. If the channel’s signals travel through a land-based network instead of satellite, the owner of that channel doesn’t have to give every rival access. The purpose of the exception was to encourage development of local programming.

Comcast and Cablevision Systems Corp. have counted on that loophole to block access to some of their sports channels by their satellite TV and phone company rivals.

Dish said Friday that Comcast’s refusal in the face of the FCC’s January decision — which was upheld by a federal appeals court in March — is a violation of program access rules.

Dish, which has had this dispute with Comcast for years, warned that the Philadelphia cable company’s behavior bodes ill for Comcast’s pending takeover of a controlling stake in NBC Universal.

“It is this type of anti-competitive conduct that reinforces our argument that the merger between Comcast and NBCU poses a grave threat to competition in the multichannel video market,” Dish said in a statement.

But Comcast said the FCC’s latest decision on the loophole doesn’t mean it has to give access to everyone. The nation’s largest cable provider said if the competitor’s business doesn’t suffer even without the channel, then Comcast doesn’t have to provide access.

The FCC’s recent order “only allows claims where the provider has suffered a competitive injury, and there is no evidence Dish has suffered such an injury,” Comcast said in a statement.

Comcast has repeatedly noted that Dish and DirecTV Inc. also have exclusive programming that they do not share with competitors. DirecTV, for one, has held exclusive rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket since 1994. Dish has exclusive agreements with certain ethnic channels.

Comcast has said it would be willing to give its satellite competitors access to SportsNet Philadelphia if they agree to share exclusive content. The cable company already gives cable company RCN Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc., which sells the competing FiOs TV and Internet service, access to SportsNet Philadelphia. RCN serves the Philadelphia suburbs.

Comcast also said its other networks are available to all subscription TV companies, including Dish.

Shares of Dish, based in Englewood, Colo., rose by 19 cents to $20.08 on Friday. Comcast shares gained 34 cents to $19.47.

AP Technology Writer Joelle Tessler in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.

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