FCC Rules Against Comcast in Bloomberg Dispute

Published May 29, 2012

The Federal Communications Commission ruled in Bloomberg TV’s favor in a dispute with Comcast, saying the cable provider must provide the business news network with more desirable channel positions. The decision was issued by the FCC’s media bureau. Comcast announced it would appeal the FCC’s May decision to the full commission.

The FCC had set certain terms on its approval of Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal last year. Bloomberg argued that under those terms it was defined as an “independent news channel” entitled to appear in the same “news neighborhoods” as the major cable news networks, including CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News.

The ruling requires Comcast to make the change Bloomberg requested. In cases where Comcast offers multiple groupings of news networks, Bloomberg may not be able to choose which neighborhood it will be placed in.

“We plan to immediately appeal to the full Commission and believe they will agree to enforce only conditions as they were originally negotiated and intended and that the Media Bureau’s misinterpretation will be overturned,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, vice president of government communications for Comcast, in a press statement.

Discriminatory Channel Positions
“Although I’m normally hesitant to suggest more governmental intervention in the private sector, I happen to agree with the FCC’s ruling in this case,” said Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance, in Chicago.

“When the FCC approved Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal, it included language stating that Comcast was barred from favoring its own channels, which in this case refers to CNBC and MSNBC,” Schrage said. “When Comcast refused to group Bloomberg in the same news neighborhoods that include these more popular news channels, Bloomberg filed suit.”

Craig Delsack, a New York media, entertainment, and technology attorney, agreed: “Bloomberg is right in this instance. Since, with the acquisition of NBCU, Comcast is now both delivers content and provides content,” he said in an email.

“As a matter of public policy, they can’t give their channels more favorable positions than other similar channels,” Delsack added. “So news channels, business channels, and other similar channels have to be ‘neighborhooded’ together. You can’t have all of the NBCU channels together, and then have Bloomberg, Fox, etc., all in different positions (e.g., have NBCU channels in the middle of the listings, have Fox and Bloomberg channels scattered haphazardly throughout the lineup.). You can’t discriminate regarding channel positions.”

‘Provided Preferential Treatment’
“This isn’t the first time that Comcast has run afoul of the FCC regarding this issue,” said Schrage. “For example, recently the FCC ruled that Comcast provided preferential treatment to its own sports channels, namely the Golf Network and NBC Sports, and had discriminated against the Tennis Channel,” he said.

“Obviously, the FCC saw this as a potential issue, which is why the language was included in its approval of the acquisition,” Schrage continued. “Comcast’s arguments that the change would be expensive, time consuming, and would confuse the consumer are paltry at best.”

Schrage added that the FCC ruling may open the door for litigation from other networks seeking optimum channel placement. “One negative consequence of the decision, if it stands, is that it could spur many other channels looking for more favorable channel positioning to pursue litigation against Comcast,” he said.

Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.