Public Knowledge: Fox/Cablevison Should Be Lesson For Comcast/NBCU

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Comcast/NBCU deal opponent Public Knowledge used the Fox/NBCU retrans battle as ammunition against the merger.

In pitches to staffers of Democratic FCC commissioners Michael Copps and Republican Meredith Attwell Baker, Public Knowledge representatives cited Fox's blocking of online content to Cablevision ISP customers as an example of the kind of power Comcast could also wield over online content.

"Since NBC has the same control over Hulu as Fox, it could engage in the same kind of blocking as Fox did," said the group.

PK also referenced NBC, ABC and CBS's absence of a content deal with Google TV (which it characterized as "blocking") to fuel its argument. A network source familiar with Fox's move confirmed at the time that it had indeed briefly blocked access, arguing that if viewers could access Fox programming online, there was less incentive for Cablevision to come to terms on a cable carriage deal. Access was restored after Fox concluded that Cablevision ISPS who did not also take video service should not lose access due to the video impasse, said the source.

While talking about online blocking and access--Public Knowledge also invoked Comcast's blocking of BitTorrent peer-to-peer file transfers--the group made it clear it was not suggesting Fox or the networks not providing content to Google TV were running afoul or network neutrality rules. "As PK has stated before, these blocking incidents are not net neutrality violations since they are not done by an ISP. But they are problems for consumers nonetheless," the group said in a footnote to its ex parte filing about the meetings.

ISPs have argued that network neutrality rules should apply to programming and applications providers control over content if they are also going to be applied to networks. PK disagrees. It says that, as a general rule, content providers should be free to make content available on their own terms, but that, as Public Knowledge says is the case with Google TV, they should not "behave anticompetitively."

The FCC has been asking a bunch of questions from both companies about access to online content as it vets the merger, but Fox's move during the Cablevision retrans fight, which was resolved over the weekend, prompted new calls from deal critics for the agency to block or condition the merger.

Public Knowledge has filed a petition to deny the Comast/NBCU deal.

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