Comcast would prefer that the Federal Communications Commission not impose outside arbitration conditions on its proposed joint venture with NBCU. But if it does, the company says, it should not apply them to national cable network negotiations.
There is precedent for program access arbitration conditions on regional sports nets, and Comcast recognized that in a conversation with John Flynn, FCC senior counsel for transactions, according to an ex parte filing posted Tuesday.
In a conversation last Friday, Kathy Zachem, Comcast vice president for regulatory and state legislative affairs, said that "to the extent the Commission considers a program access arbitration remedy for MVPDs, I emphasized that the weight of the economic and factual evidence in the record compels the exclusion of national cable networks from any such condition."
She also argued that substituting arbitration for the FCC complaint process for RSNs was problematic as well. In fact, Dish Network disconnected Comcast SportsNet California at midnight on Nov. 24, 12 hours it lost an FCC arbitration hearing. Three other FCC-arbitration orders involving Dish and Comcast RSNs are pending, which Zachem pointed out in an email she sent to FCC Media Bureau chief William Lake on Nov. 24.
Zachem said that any program-access conditions for online video--which are being pushed by various deal critics--would be "very complicated," and said Comcast should not be prevented from striking online deals post-merger that are "standard throughout the industry."
In its argument to the commission for conditions on the deal, DirecTV argued that national nets should be included in an arbitration regime, saying that they can be just the kind of "marquee" programming that can give a vertically integrated programmer the ability to disadvantage its MVPD competition.