Bloomberg appears to have won a significant victory in its fight to get Comcast to live by a condition imposed on it as part of its merger with NBC Universal that it include the financial news network when it groups other news channels into the same "neighborhood" on its cable systems.
The Federal Communications Commission's Media Bureau ruled Wednesday mostly in Bloomberg's favor in response to a complaint it filed claiming that Comcast was not abiding by the "neighborhooding" condition the agency imposed when it approved the cable firm's acquisition of NBCU last year. Comcast has disputed the meaning of the condition and said that Bloomberg had misinterpreted what the commission had required.
"We find that Comcast does place a significant number of news and business news channels substantially adjacent to one another in many systems' channel lineups, forming news neighborhoods, and that Bloomberg Television is not included in such neighborhoods on some systems," the FCC Media Bureau said in its order. "Accordingly we grant Bloomberg, L.P.'s ("Bloomberg") complaint in part, [and] direct Comcast to carry Bloomberg in a news neighborhood on certain headends."
The Media Bureau said the condition applies to Comcast's existing channel lineups at the time the FCC adopted its order on the Comcast-NBCU merger as well as to the cable provider's future channel lineups. In addition, the bureau also said that if four or more news or business news stations are within five spots of each other that constitutes a "neighborhood" and therefore Comcast must include Bloomberg in that neighborhood. If it has more than one news neighborhood on its cable systems, Comcast is only required to include Bloomberg on one of them.
When the Comcast-NBCU merger was announced, Bloomberg voiced concerns that the combined company would favor NBC's CNBC financial news network over Bloomberg. In response, Bloomberg pushed hard for the inclusion of the "neighborhooding" condition to mitigate such concerns.
Comcast has said it would appeal the Media Bureau's order to the full FCC.
"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 Vice President of Government Communications Sena Fitzmaurice said in a statement. "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. And there is simply no support in any record for a four channel definition of a 'neighborhood.'"
Public interest groups that opposed the Comcast-NBCU merger have complained that the FCC needs to enforce the conditions it imposes on mergers.
"Merger conditions are only as good as an agency's willingness to enforce them," Free Press Policy Adviser Joel Kelsey said in a statement. "The FCC did the right thing by acting on this complaint and protecting competition among independent news sources."
Bloomberg's Greg Babyak echoed this view in a statement. "We are pleased the FCC had the foresight to include the news neighborhooding condition in the Comcast/NBCU merger order and the willingness to enforce it." He added that the company, looks "forward to working with Comcast to implement the order over the next 60 days."
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