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Bloomberg Again Accuses Comcast of Favoring NBCUniversal's News Networks

The business media giant tells the FCC that the cable operator is violating the terms of the agency's approval of the NBCU acquisition.

Bloomberg LLP has filed new comments at the FCC that once again argues that Comcast Corporation has violated the "news neighborhooding" conditions of the agency's approval of the NBC Universal acquisition.

Ever since Comcast announced in December, 2009 that it was purchasing a 51% stake in NBCU, Bloomberg has been one of the most vociferous objectors, expressing concern that the cable distributor would favor CNBC over its own business news network. In a new filing, the business media giant says it has fresh evidence how Comcast is being partial to its own content and discriminating against competitors.

It's been 14 months since the FCC approved the Comcast-NBCU marriage, which Bloomberg notes is longer than the 13 months that the FCC spent to review the merger.

In that time, Bloomberg accuses Comcast of violating an FCC order that held that "If Comcast now or in the future carries news and/or business news channels in a neighborhood...Comcast must carry all independent news and business news channels in that neighborhood."

In other words, if Comcast places its channels like CNBC and MSNBC in premium position on the cable dial, Bloomberg wants its own Bloomberg TV there in the "neighborhood."

Bloomberg says that's not what it is getting in several markets. For example, in Crescent City, Florida, Comcast has given channel 33 to Fox News, channel 35 to CNN, channel 36 to Headline News, and channel 37 to CNBC. Bloomberg's network was left out of this 'hood, relegated to channel 251. In Bethel, Connecticut, Comcast moved MSNBC from channel 183 to channel 63, where it's neighbors with Fox News, CNBC, HLN, and CNN. But Bloomberg TV is 126 channels away from that news tier.

In the past, Comcast has stated that Bloomberg's complaints are "based on an arbitrary and baseless definition of a news neighborhood as ‘four news channels within five positions.’"

Comcast has responded to Bloomberg's latest words by saying the challenger "continues to willfully misinterpret the 'neighborhooding' condition in the FCC's Comcast NBCUniversal transaction Order" and that "Comcast does not 'neighborhood' news channels in the way Bloomberg seeks to be repositioned." 

"Its continued rehashing of the same arguments it has previously made smacks of desperation," says Comcast in a statement.

Nevertheless, Bloomberg tells the FCC that it is not buying Comcast's excuses and points to 11,000 channel changes in 2011.

"Comcast has argued that such moves are expensive, time consuming, cause the need for further moves as one channel displaces another, and create consumer confusion and disruption," writes Bloomberg in its latest comment to the FCC. "Clearly, these arguments ring hollow if Comcast is voluntarily moving news channels to create or rearrange news neighborhoods."

If channels on the cable dial represent a form of musical chairs, Bloomberg is getting frustrated at having the undesirable seat. Bloomberg reiterates the the FCC order, "If Comcast now or in the future carries news..." and says it "now finds itself in the midst of a 14-month debate over the meaning of 'now.'

Comcast serves some 20 million cable subscribers. The company has released a response that reads:

"If Comcast is forced to do what Bloomberg wants the FCC to mandate beyond the requirements of the FCC Order, millions of customers will be subject to disruption and confusion required by massive channel realignments across the country, all to benefit an already thriving, $30 billion media company.  It is hard to imagine a more anti-consumer result that would be less in the public interest.
 
Any complaints about Comcast’s commitment to independent programming are similarly without merit.  Since the close of the transaction, Comcast has  increased carriage of independent networks, including diverse networks such as the Africa Channel by two million homes, Mnet by four million homes, and TVOne by 600,000 homes.  Comcast also expanded distribution of seven Hispanic or Spanish-language independent networks by 14 million homes, surpassing the three network and 10 million homes target in its commitment."

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner