Martin Defends Comcast Place at Head of VNR Fine Line

Comcast Wouldn't Agree to 'Tolling Agreement' to Give FCC More Time

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin said Tuesday that there was a simple explanation of why cable company Comcast was issued the first five fines for airing unattributed video news releases.

Comcast has been on the short end of several recent FCC decisions, which led to some questions about why the cable operator appeared at the front of the line of what could be numerous VNR decisions, particularly since a raft of complaints against others had been filed months before the ones against Comcast, mostly against TV stations.

Martin conceded that there were dozens, if not hundreds, of complaints against a variety of companies. But he said those other companies had all agreed to give the FCC more time (a so-called tolling agreement) to examine the complaints, while Comcast had not agreed to do so.

"I believe Comcast had initially told our Enforcement Bureau that they would also agree to a tolling agreement," Martin told reporters after a speech Tuesday morning. "But then they decided they would not. So we were faced with a choice of issuing the NAL [notice of apparent liability] or allowing the time to lapse so we would never be able to take any enforcement action against them. And so, faced with that decision, we decided we would issue an NAL."

“The commission had our response to the VNR inquiry for several months when they requested a continued delay," Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said. "We declined because we were -- and remain -- confident of our position on the merits: That the statute does not apply to cable programming, and that even if it did, there was no violation because there was no exchange of value or benefit to CN8 or Comcast."

The FCC disagreed, finding that if the VNR dwells on a brand, it can trigger on-air sponsorship requirements even if no money or merchandise exchanged hands.