Bloomberg Offers New Evidence Against Comcast

FCC dragged its feet handling complaint

Hoping to light a fire under the Federal Communications Commission, Bloomberg said Tuesday it filed new evidence that Comcast continues to violate the news neighborhooding condition required by the FCC in Comcast's merger with NBCUniversal.

The neighborhooding and other conditions placed on the merger were intended to prevent Comcast from favoring NBC's and its own programming over others.

Responding to Comcast's annual report of compliance, Bloomberg submitted what it says is new evidence that Comcast continues to thumb its nose at the condition requiring it to place Bloomberg TV in the same news neighborhood with other news channels, especially Comcast-owned CNBC and MSNBC.

Bloomberg presented four new examples in small markets where since its merger with NBCU, Comcast created or changed two news neighborhoods and where Bloomberg TV is, on average, 100 channels away from Comcast-owned channels such as CNBC and MSNBC.

"We would need a passport to get into the news neighborhoods," said Greg Babyak, Bloomberg's head of government affairs, during a press conference. "Challenging CNBC, the dominant player, is a daunting task, but not having equitable channel placement—that's an enormous hill that is placed in our way."

Bloomberg's original complaint against Comcast was filed in June. Since then, the two companies have argued over the meaning of the FCC's condition: "If Comcast now or in the future carries news and/or business news channels in a neighborhood, defined as placing a significant number or percentage of news and/or business channels substantially adjacent to one another in a system's channel lineup, Comcast must carry all independent news and business news channels in that neighborhood."

The FCC, which has yet to act on Bloomberg's complaint, took almost as much of a beating as Comcast during a press call this afternoon.

"The inaction at the commission is pretty alarming," said Joel Kelsey, a policy advisor with Free Press, who joined Bloomberg on the call. "The silence is deafening. It shows the FCC is unwilling or unable to act in enforcing its own conditions."

It also doesn't bode well for other independent programmers who may have complaints with Comcast, said Gigi Sohn, the president and CEO of Public Knowledge, who was also on the call. "Many independent programmers are scared stiff to talk about problems they are having. They are worried about retaliation," Sohn said on the call. "Can we trust the FCC as for what they'll do in the future?"

Comcast brushed off Bloomberg's outstanding complaint as an act of desperation that boils down to the definition of neighborhooding. Under Comcast's definition of the term, Bloomberg has "misinterpreted" the condition. "Comcast does not 'neighborhood' news channels in the way Bloomberg seeks to be repositioned," Comcast said in a statement prior to Bloomberg's press conference.


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