Comcast hit with antitrust lawsuit by Altitude Sports

Comcast owns and operates several regional sports networks including NBC Sports Boston, NBC Sports Philadelphia, and NBC Sports Washington. (Comcast)

Altitude Sports & Entertainment, an independent regional sports network with rights to televise the Denver Nuggets and other pro sports teams, has sued Comcast over alleged antitrust violations.

In a complaint filed with the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, Altitude accused Comcast of using its dominant cable TV market share in the Denver area to try to force Altitude out of business so it can own all RSN broadcasting. The network said that Comcast wants to own and operate an RSN in Denver so it can continue to charge its customers programming and additional Regional Sports Fees without having to pay Altitude.

Altitude and Comcast have had a carriage deal in place for most of the past 15 years. But in August, Altitude was dropped after the network and Comcast didn’t come to terms on a new agreement. Altitude said that in recent negotiations Comcast began demanding “dramatic cuts in rates” and also proposed moving Altitude’s channels to a programming tier that would require subscribers to pay more to Comcast for access.

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“There can be no doubt that Comcast knows the proposals it has made would put Altitude out of business,” the company wrote in its complaint. “Not only has Altitude told Comcast that, but Comcast already knows this because it operates its own RSNs.”

Comcast called Altitude's suit "meritless" and pointed toward other potential distribution partners for the network. Altitude has a distribution deal with DirecTV in the Denver market but not Dish Network.

"Instead of pursuing baseless litigation, Altitude should engage in responsible commercial negotiations that would allow Comcast to distribute its programming to those customers who want it without driving up costs for customers who do not. Since at this point Altitude has rejected all reasonable offers, we have provided our customers with a credit until we reach an agreement. We will vigorously defend ourselves against Altitude’s claims," the company said in a statement.

Comcast owns and operates several RSNs including NBC Sports Boston, NBC Sports Philadelphia, and NBC Sports Washington. Altitude said that Comcast has not forced rate cuts or carriage reductions on its own RSNs and that it continues to charge MVPDs per subscriber license fees and sign new contracts for rates, equal to or higher than what it previously paid to Altitude.

“Comcast has saved its demands of drastic rate cuts and carriage reductions, along with a blackout, for Altitude, an independent RSN,” wrote Altitude, which also televises games from the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids.

Altitude is asking the court to award it punitive damages including legal fees as well as injunctive relief both under federal antitrust and state laws.

This article was updated to include a statement from Comcast.