FCC's Philly Beef Take

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Could Comcast’s ongoing flap with its satellite competitors over access to Comcast’s Philly regional sports net (RSN) be responsiblefor all those online conditions on the NBCU deal?Probably not. Given the FCC’s push for wedding online and offline content over the TV set, and the explosion of online video viewing, it was bound to be part of the equation. But the FCC’s order–released Thursday–seems to suggest that Comcast’s long-standing standoff is still sticking in the FCC’s craw.

The FCC said that without online access conditions, the Comcast/NBCU transaction would–not just “could”–cause competitive harms to rivals.

Why? “We cannot rely on Comcast’s assurances that it will not use its control of NBCUcontent anticompetitively,” said the FCC order.

And why is that? “Comcast currently chooses to withhold content from its rivals, thereby contradicting its contentions that, for whatever theoretical reason, it would not do so in the future.”

And what evidence does the FCC have of that?: “For example, Comcast’s refusal to provide the Philadelphia RSN is not due to a dispute about price or terms, but rather is merely Comcast’s ‘long-standing business policy,’ as Comcast’s own correspondence states.”

Comcast has argued that not making its Philly RSN available to satellite competitor DirecTV is no more anticompetitive than DirecTV’s exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket package, which the NFL does not make available to Comcast, or other cable operators. Comcast argues that exclusivity is a product differentiator, but also points out it has made its RSN available to competitors in Philly, including Verizon and overbuilderRCN, and that it has been open to talks with DISH.

So, suggests the FCC, because Comcast has played hardball in Philly over access to sports. “Therefore, we impose conditions, as described further in Appendix A, to ameliorate the potential competitive harms thatcould result from Comcast’s control of Comcast-NBCU’s online rights.”