Senator Franken Supports Bloomberg’s Battle Against Comcast

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The FCC considers whether the cable provider is favoring its own news channels.

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Senator Al Franken (D-MN) recently went to bat against his former employer, NBC, in a skirmish between its new owner, Comcast, and Bloomberg News. The skirmish centers on Bloomberg’s complaint to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that Comcast is discriminating against it by keeping it out of Comcast’s “news neighborhood,” which currently includes CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC. Comcast owns both MSNBC and CNBC, and Bloomberg argued that Comcast is favoring its own networks.

The dispute flows from a condition that the FCC imposed on Comcast before it would approve the cable provider’s merger with NBC/Universal back in January, 2011. The FCC required “that if Comcast now or in the future carries news and/or business news channels in a neighborhood, defined as placing a significant number or percentage of news and/or business news channels substantially adjacent to one another in a system’s channel lineup, Comcast must carry all independent news and business channels in that neighborhood.”

Bloomberg and Senator Franken have argued that the FCC order requires Comcast to give Bloomberg access to the Comcast news neighborhood as of right. Bloomberg interpreted the FCC’s reference to “a significant number” to mean “of noticeably or measurably large amount.” Since more than three-quarters of Comcast’s local franchises carry no more than 12 standard definition news channels, four news channels is “a significant number,” according to Bloomberg.  Therefore, Bloomberg argues, when Comcast places CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC adjacent to each other in a channel lineup, as it does in many localities, Comcast has created a “neighborhood” into which it must allow Bloomberg News.

Comcast responded to the FCC that it has no such thing has a “news neighborhood.” In fact, it argued, “the established industry practice for ‘neighborhooding’ typically involves groupings of at least ten or more news channel constituting more than 60 or 70 percent of the news channels carried on a system.” Comcast further argues that placing Bloomberg News beside its news rivals “would displace the popular, established networks now located” there, including ESPN, the Discovery Channel, and the Cartoon Network.

Senator Franken has asked that the FCC “seriously examine the allegations in Bloomberg’s complaint.”

Abigail Slater

Abigail Slater is  an antitrust attorney at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in Washington, D.C.