WASHINGTON — It turns out the Federal Communications Commission’s Media Bureau got the Bloomberg Television “news neighborhooding” complaint against Comcast right the first time, at least according to the full commission, which voted to uphold the original decision.
The bureau last May agreed with Bloomberg that Comcast needed to move the independent news channel into “news neighborhoods” to comply with one of the conditions Comcast agreed to in acquiring NBCUniversal.
The condition was meant to prevent Comcast from favoring its co-owned news networks, like MSNBC or CNBC, over independent channels.
Now, Comcast will be required to “neighborhood” both standard-definition and high-definition channels. And if Comcast has multiple news neighborhoods — groupings of four news networks within five channels — it must include independent news networks in each of them.
The FCC will not require Comcast to put Bloomberg TV in more than one news neighborhood per system, even though the SD and HD versions count as separate channels.
“With this order, we ensure that Comcast treats Bloomberg Television comparably to its affiliated news channels. This will allow Bloomberg Television to compete on an equal footing with its Comcast- affiliated competitors,” acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said in a statement.
Commissioner Ajit Pai dissented in part from the decision. While he said he supported almost all of the order, he dissented from the FCC’s definition of “news neighborhood” as four or more news channels. Pai suggested it should have been at least eight, and offered a number of reasons why. First, he said, defining the NBCU order’s “significant number” renders half of the neighborhooding condition superfluous. Second, four channels creates multiple neighborhoods where there should be one, and because the order says Comcast must only carry the channels in one neighborhood per system, it could cluster C-SPAN 1, 2, and 3 with Bloomberg TV and still comply. Third, the costs to Comcast of neighborhooding are significant, including having to alter lineups in almost every system.
In August the FCC, in an order clarifying its May 2 order to Comcast to neighborhood Bloomberg TV, stayed the effectiveness of that order as it applied to markets with only a single standard-definition news neighborhood and no vacant adjacent channels.
Both Comcast and Bloomberg challenged parts of the order, which the FCC resolved with its decision last week, essentially denying most of those and sticking with the original order.
“The commission was correct in January 2011, when it deemed the condition necessary to ensure that the merger was in the public interest,” Greg Babyak, head of government affairs for Bloomberg LP, said. “The commission is correct today, in moving to keep the important promise it made to the public.”
Comcast vice president of governmental relations Sena Fitzmaurice said the company was “disappointed that the FCC failed to constrain the Media Bureau’s overly broad construction of the news neighborhooding condition. As it is currently being interpreted, the condition goes well beyond the express language of the FCC’s Comcast-NBCUniversal Order and what is justified by the evidence in that case. The FCC’s interpretation very likely will lead to significant and unwarranted burdens on us, our customers, and other programming networks. We are evaluating our options.”
Those options likely include taking the FCC to court, a familiar destination for many of the agency’s decisions.
The FCC has upheld a Media Bureau ruling saying Comcast must move Bloomberg TV into a “news neighborhood” to ensure the MSO doesn’t favor NBCUniversal-owned CNBC or MSNBC.