House GOP Throws Support Behind Comcast In Tennis Channel Case

Letter to FCC warns agency not to over-reach

Ever since the Federal Communications Commission's administrative law judge ruled that Comcast must move the Tennis Channel to the same programming tier as Comcast-owned Golf Channel, Comcast has been trying to convince the FCC to reverse the judge's decision when it reviews the case.

On Monday, the cable giant got some support from 34 House GOP members led by Commerce Energy and Commerce Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the communications and technology subcommittee.

The FCC's decision on the Tennis Channel is expected soon, but there is no particular time line the agency must follow.

GOP lawmakers on the committee have been hitting hard at the FCC all year accusing the agency of over-reaching its regulatory mandate and passed legislation in the House to reform how the Democratic-controlled FCC makes decisions by restricting its purview to a stricter interpretation of the law. 

In their letter to FCC Chair Julius Genachowski, the GOP lawmakers didn't mention the Tennis Channel case by name, but they didn't have to.

"The FCC's recent interpretation of the program carriage rules, however, could be read to enable programmers effectively to force their way on to a cable operator's system by merely alleging that their programming is similar enough to the operator's affiliated programming, rather than showing that there has been anti-competitive discrimination," the lawmakers wrote. "This is a broad expansion of the FCC's program carriage rules and procedures."

The letter followed one week after Comcast's president of public policy Kyle McSlarrow took aim at the administrative law judge's decision in the Tennis Channel case. If the FCC affirmed that decision, McSlarrow argued in a blog post, it would be akin to the government telling the Washington Post what columns or sections of the paper it should run.

"The administrative law judge's ruling was a breathtaking regulatory overreach. If endorsed by the full FCC, the ALJ's ruling would drive up costs for everyone, even though the appeal of Tennis Channel programming is limited," McSlarrow wrote. 

The Tennis Chanel declined to comment.