NFL, Comcast channel a lawsuit

The NFL released its entire 2009 schedule Tuesday, but it’s eight specific games on the calendar that are the focus of a courtroom hearing in Washington, D.C. this week.

The octet of games will air later this year on NFL Network, which is owned by the league. Comcast has put the network on its premium sports tier, which costs extra on top of the standard digital package, where the league wants its network to be.

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, claims it put the network in the premium tier because of high costs associated with carrying the channel; the NFL says Comcast put the channel there so as not to compete with Comcast’s own sports channels. 

An administrative law judge with the Federal Communications Commission will make a ruling that could have implications beyond sports:

It is the first big test at the FCC of a 1992 federal law that prohibits cable companies, such as Comcast, from favoring their own entertainment content over that of independents, such as the NFL Network. …[A ruling in favor of the NFL] could make it easier for independent programmers to gain access to cable systems, experts say.

This case is one of three that will be heard in the next few months by Judge Richard L. Sippel; another one, interestingly enough, involves MASN, the Orioles’ and Nationals cable network. After settling a separate federal suit against Comcast (over “split feed” advertising in the Baltimore and D.C. region) a little more than a year ago, MASN now wants Comcast to carry the channel in several southern Virginia markets.