Comcast keeps airing NFL Network while both sides work on a deal

PHILADELPHIA -- Comcast continued carrying the NFL Network, even after the contract between the two sides expired at midnight Thursday, as negotiations continue.

"Comcast and the NFL are engaged in productive discussions toward a new agreement for NFL Network carriage on Comcast," the cable television operator and the league said in a joint statement released Thursday. "... We are both working to find a solution that works for NFL fans and Comcast's customers."

Comcast and the National Football League are in a court battle over the cable company's decision to put the NFL-owned channel in a premium sports tier rather than in a lesser-priced service package that has more viewers.

Comcast said the NFL asked for a 350 percent increase in the fees the nation's largest cable company would pay to carry the network, according to documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

Since the fees are based on the number of viewers, Comcast was able to pay less to the NFL Network by moving the channel from a digital tier with 8.6 million subscribers to a sports package that has 2 million subscribers and costs an extra $7 per month. The Philadelphia-based cable operator said it was allowed to do so under their contract, signed in 2004.

The NFL said Comcast made the move in retaliation for not receiving the rights to show eight live NFL games on its Versus sports channel.

The NFL pointed out that Comcast rivals such as Dish Network Corp., DirecTV Group Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. all agreed to the same rates to carry the network. The NFL Network also said that with a smaller audience, it couldn't have sports packages like Pacific-10 Conference college football games, which had a minimum viewership requirement.

In 2006, the NFL sued Comcast in New York state court to force the cable operator to move the network back to the more popular digital tier. The following May, the court sided with Comcast, but the NFL appealed. An appellate court partially reversed the state court ruling and sent the case back for discovery and trial, where it is pending today.

In the meantime, the NFL sought an FCC order on the dispute. Now the case awaits a ruling from an administrative law judge at the FCC.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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