As promised, Bloomberg has officially asked the FCC to require Comcast to move Bloomberg Television into "existing news neighborhoods" on its systems, saying that not to do so violates a condition in the FCC's order approving the NBCU deal.
In a complaint filed early Monday, Bloomberg said that Comcast's assertion that it does not have such neighborhoods and that any "neighborhooding" requirement applies to any future such possible news is off base.
"[T]he evidence clearly indicates that Comcast right now extensivley groups news channels [like Fox News channel, MSNBC, and CNN] into new neighborhoods. Moreover, the FCC order expressly states that the news neighborhooding condition applies to news neighborhoods that Comcast carries "NOW or in the future,"thos meaning that it applies to any news neighborhood that Comcast carried as of the date of the FCC order (Jan. 18).
Bloomberg wants the FCC to make Comcast move Bloomberg TV into "exisiting news neighborhoods" as defined by Bloomberg, wihtin 60 days in the top 35 DMA's in the country.
"The FCC wisely placed conditions on the Comcast-NBC-U merger in order to protect the public. Comcast affirmatively agreed to those conditions, only to argue now that they don't have to live by them," said Bloomberg government affairs exec Greg Babyak of the filing. "This has become a test of how serious Comcast is about abiding by and implementing the conditions set by the Commission. So far, Comcast is failing that test."
Media Access Project, which was highly critical of the Comcast/NBCU deal, agreed. "This is the first test of the FCC's resolve to enforce the conditions which were central to the FCC's decision to allow Comcast to acquire NBC Universal earlier this year," said MAP SVP Andrew Jay Schwartzman. "Unless the FCC acts promptly and decisively to grant Bloomberg's complaint, it will signal that Comcast will be able to use hyper-technical and evasive legal tactics to evade those measures."
In its response to Bloomberg's informal May 26 request that it start moving Bloomberg TV adjacent to other business news channels, Comcast had pointed out that its channel placements preceded the NBCU deal and said it was not based on any "discriminatory motive to advantage CNBC or MSNBC to disadvantage Bloomberg." Comcast said that the FCC did not mean for Comcast to have to remake channel lineups in 39 states. It pointed out that it has launched Bloomberg TV to 18 million subs over the past five years and continued to add the channel after the transaction with NBCU.
"The FCC Order in the Comcast NBCUniversal transaction does not require Comcast to ‘neighborhood' Bloomberg," Comcast said Monday in a statement in response to the formal complaint. "The FCC clearly stated that ‘we decline to adopt a requirement that Comcast affirmatively undertake neighborhooding' and that the neighborhooding condition ‘would only take effect if Comcast-NBCU undertook to neighborhood its news or business news channels.' The so-called ‘neighborhooding' condition in the FCC's Comcast NBCUniversal transaction Order does not support Bloomberg TV's request today. Comcast does not, and since the transaction has not, ‘neighborhooded' channels on our systems."
"As it has said before, Comcast argues that complying with Bloomberg's request would be big time consumer-unfriendly.
"If Comcast were forced to do what Bloomberg is asking the government to mandate, millions of customers would be subject to disruption and confusion required by massive channel realignments across the country all to benefit an already thriving $30 billion media company. The FCC carefully crafted its moderate, forward looking condition precisely to avoid this type of upheaval."
According to Bloomberg's interpretation, examples of Comcast's failure to comply includes in Washington, D.C., where it carries CNN, Headline News, CNBC, MSNBC, and Fox News on adjacent channels 35-39 and Blooomberg Television on channel 103, and in Seattle, where it is carries those same nets on adjacent channels 44-48, but Bloomberg on 128 between Nickelodeon and an empty channel.