FCC finds in favor of Bloomberg in fight with Comcast
The Federal Communications Commission has ruled in favor of Bloomberg Television in its bitter fight with Comcast Corp. over where its business channel was carried on the cable giant's systems.
In a ruling issued by the agency's Media Bureau late Wednesday afternoon, the FCC agreed with Bloomberg that Comcast is required to place the business network in the same neighborhood as other news channels, particularly those owned by Comcast, including CNBC and MSNBC.
"We agree with Bloomberg that the plain language of the condition suggests that the commission intended that the condition would apply to Comcast’s existing channel lineups," the FCC said.
The commission went on to direct Comcast to put Bloomberg in the same neighborhood as other news channels in any top-35 market where such neighborhoods exist in the next two weeks.
The FCC defines a neighborhood as "a grouping containing four news or business news channels within a cluster of five adjacent channel positions." For example, if channels 20, 21, 22 and 24 are occupied by CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and Fox News, that would be a neighborhood even if channel 23 has a different format.
Bloomberg had argued in complaints filed with the FCC that Comcast was playing favorites with its own channels at the expense of Bloomberg. This was a concern Bloomberg expressed when Comcast first announced its plans to acquire control of NBCUniversal, the entertainment company that owns MSNBC and CNBC.
Comcast argued that the FCC condition applied to any future news neighborhood, not the lineup of its channels before the deal with NBCUniversal closed. Comcast also accused Bloomberg of using the merger to try to get special treatment for its network. If Comcast did what Bloomberg wanted, the cable company said last year, "millions of customers will be subject to disruption and confusion required by massive channel realignments across the country, all to benefit an already-thriving, $30-billion media company."
In a statement, Comcast said it would appeal the Media Bureau ruling to the FCC chairman and the other commissioners.
"We respectfully disagree with the Media Bureau's interpretation of the 'neighborhooding' condition, which so clearly rewrites the history and any permissible underlying rationale for the condition," Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said. "Since by definition, no 'discrimination' against Bloomberg in favor of CNBC could have taken place before the NBCUniversal transaction, any retrospective condition on this subject would have been arbitrary and capricious."
The neighborhooding condition only applies to news channels that compete with Comcast-owned networks, not other channels. The FCC said it did this “in accordance with the special importance of news programming to the public interest." However, an entertainment channel that competes with a Comcast network and is angry about where it is located on Comcast cable systems, can't complain to the FCC.
-- Joe Flint