2:25pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Comcast Beats Spanish-Language Broadcaster's Discrimination Complaint
Comcast got welcome news from the FCC on Friday when the media agency dismissed a complaint filed by Liberman Broadcasting Inc., the owner of Estrella TV.
Estrella was removed last year from Comcast's service in Houston, Denver and Salt Lake City after negotiations for carriage broke down. Afterwards, Liberman went to the FCC with the claim that Comcast, in a bid to boost affiliated networks Telemundo and NBC Universo, was committing program discrimination and violating Section 616 of the 1992 Cable Act.
Today, the FCC agreed with Comcast's contention that Liberman failed to establish a prima facie case of a program carriage violation because it has failed to prove that it is a “video programming vendor” within the meaning of the statute. The regulatory agency deems Liberman instead to be a "broadcast licensee."
"While it could be argued that LBI is engaged in the 'production, creation, or wholesale distribution of video programming for sale' to the extent it seeks compensation from Comcast for carriage of its television broadcast stations, it is in fact negotiating compensation for the retransmission of its television broadcast 'signal' rather than carriage of the 'video programming' contained within that signal," explains the FCC in its order.
Accordingly, Liberman must look to the compulsory copyright rules, otherwise known as must-carry, if it wishes distribution and can't come to a retrans fee.
Because Liberman lacks standing, the FCC dodges the arguably more provocative question Liberman brought up in its argument that Comcast's request for Estrella's digital programming rights in negotiations constituted an impermissible demand for a "financial interest" in the station under Section 616. Comcast argued this interpretation would make it unlawful anytime a cable or satellite distributor had the gall to ask for digital rights.
In reaction to Friday's ruling, Liberman says it's disappointed, disagrees with the interpretation and is examining options to appeal the decision.