Bloomberg Praises FCC's Revisions to Program Carriage Rules

Bloomberg is giving the Federal Communications Commission props for its proposals to revise program carriage rules to speed complaint resolution, adopt baseball-style arbitration for impasses, and institute standstills for renewals and monetary "true ups" for instances of noncarriage.

That came in comments it filed Monday in the FCC's program carriage rules proposal, which also included a plug for the agency acting on its complaint against the nation's largest cable operator, Comcast, over the news neighborhooding condition in its NBCU deal.

It said that the condition was an example of the FCC's concerns with concentration. Bloomberg expressed particular concernsabout the need for expedited review in instances like its neighborhooding complaint, where the remedy is time-limited -- the Comcast-NBCU conditions sunset after seven years from last January.

But more broadly, Bloomberg said that the complaint process is fundamentally broken, saying that no independent programmer has ever achieved a favorable commission decision in carriage complaint proceeding.

Bloomberg argued that in the 20 years since Congress passed the 1992 Cable Act, two things are clear: 1) the potential for abuse has grown and the market has become more concentrated and 2) there is consensus that the existing process has not protected independent programmers or the public.

"The proposed program carriage rules, like the news neighborhooding condition in the Comcast-NBCU order, recognize that increased media consolidation means increased incentive and opportunity for MVPDs to exploit their monopoly and deprive the public of independent voices," said Bloomberg's Greg Babyak. "It is critical, then, that both the program carriage rules and the news neighborhooding conditions be implemented as rapidly as possible."

Bloomberg is also partial to baseball style arbitration because it says that will also speed the process and encourage settlements.

The FCC has proposed allowing for compensatory damages but Bloomberg would add punitive damages to the list. It supports making mandatory carriage orders effective immediately, clarifying who has the burden of proof and adopting a strong antiretaliation rule -- the commission is proposing making retaliation itself a form of discrimination.

Babyak said the only thing Bloomberg takes real exception to is the FCC's proposal to empower individual parties with greater discovery powers. "Frankly, we are concerned that that would lead to further delay. We are happier having the Media Bureau make the assessment in terms of what is necessary in terms of discovery."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.