Comcast must reposition the Bloomberg Television business news channel into "news neighborhoods" in 106 headends -- spanning the 35 largest U.S. markets -- within 60 days to comply with a condition of the FCC's approval of the NBCUniversal deal, the commission's Media Bureau ordered Wednesday.
Comcast plans to appeal the order to the full Federal Communications Commission, saying the Media Bureau "misinterpreted" the terms of the Comcast-NBCU order.
"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."
The bureau found that Bloomberg Television is an "independent news channel" covered by the "news neighborhooding" condition adopted in the Comcast-NBCU order.
"We find that Comcast is placing a significant number or percentage of news and business news channels substantially adjacent to one another on certain headends' channel lineups," the Media Bureau said in granting Bloomberg's complaint in part.
The bureau said it agreed with Bloomberg's reading of the Comcast-NBCU order to mean the news neighborhooding condition is triggered "if Comcast 'now . . . carries' news channels in a neighborhood. Comcast's argument that the condition applies only to future lineups would read out of the condition the term 'now ... carries' and, thus, would be contrary to the Commission's stated intent regarding the condition's applicability," it said.
"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," Greg Babyak, head of government affairs for Bloomberg LP, said in a statement. "Many in the public interest community have worked tirelessly with us to promote the availability of independent sources of news to the public, and we look forward to working with Comcast to implement the order over the next 60 days."
Bloomberg filed its complaint about the network being excluded from certain Comcast news neighborhoods on June 13, 2011, alleging that violated one of the FCC's conditions for the NBCU deal.
According to the order, Comcast within 60 days must reposition Bloomberg TV in a news neighborhood on every headend in the top-35 most populous Nielsen designated market areas if the headend meets three conditions: It carries Bloomberg TV; it has a grouping of at least four news channels within a cluster of five adjacent channel positions (comprising a "news neighborhood"); and it currently does not include Bloomberg TV within a news neighborhood.
Comcast's Fitzmaurice said that "there is simply no support in any record for a four channel definition of a 'neighborhood.'"
In addition, the Media Bureau ordered Comcast to file a list of each headend that meets those criteria within 14 business days.
The Media Bureau said that if a Comcast system has more than one news neighborhood, the condition obligates Comcast to carry independent news and business news channels in at least one such neighborhood, but not in all news neighborhoods, in a particular neighborhood, or in one consolidated news neighborhood.
According to Comcast, at least 106 of the MSO's cable headends in the relevant DMAs carry Bloomberg TV, have a news neighborhood, and do not include Bloomberg in a neighborhood.
The Media Bureau's order is available here.
Media-reform advocacy group Free Press, through policy adviser Joel Kelsey, said in a statement: "Merger conditions are only as good as an agency's willingness to enforce them. The FCC did the right thing by acting on this complaint and protecting competition among independent news sources. While we are pleased that the FCC has finally taken action, we note that the complaint has been pending for close to a year. A complainant with fewer resources than Bloomberg might not have had the wherewithal to survive the process."