Are They Ganging Up on Comcast?

If you're Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA  ) CEO Brian Roberts, you might feel like you're being picked at more than those Thanksgiving leftovers. At last count, the de facto leader of the cable industry's biggest company was involved in skirmishes with the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the National Football League, and at least one of his subscribers.

The FCC contest involves the commission's Chairman Kevin Martin, who's attempting to invoke a so-called 70-70 provision to increase the regulatory oversight of the cable industry. The provision basically says that when cable systems with 36 or more channels are available to 70% of U.S. households, and at least 70% of those households subscribe to cable, the commission may "promulgate any additional rules necessary to promote diversity of information sources."

Martin has long wanted the cable companies to offer "a la carte" opportunities to subscribers, allowing them to choose the networks they receive, rather than being subjected to predetermined packages. The trouble is that both the industry's National Cable & Telecommunications trade group and Martin's two fellow Republican FCC commissioners question whether the cable companies really do have enough subscribers to trigger the 70-70 provision.

And if the potential of fisticuffs with the chairman of a major regulatory authority weren't enough, Comcast also has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the NFL Network. In it, it demands that the folks at the channel stop urging fans to cease subscribing to the cable provider. Comcast, and other cable operators, including Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC  ) , Charter (Nasdaq: CHTR  ) , and Cablevision (NYSE: CVC  ) , have refused to carry the league's channel or else charge a premium. In return, the network's website includes a box that urges subscribers to switch to a television provider that does carry the channel.

Then there's the other brouhaha in which Comcast has been found to interfere with subscribers' data file sharing. A San Francisco Bay area subscriber has filed suit against the company claiming everything from breach of contract to computer fraud. Meanwhile, a coalition of consumer groups and legal scholars has requested that the FCC fine the operator for its traffic interference.

So if Roberts feels a little like the leftover gobbler -- or perhaps George Armstrong Custer -- that's probably understandable. Being the biggest player in a consumer-related industry can make one an easy target.

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