Comcast and Its Critics Face Off

A coalition of Comcast/NBCU deal critics has asked Comcast
to withdraw
its support
from a Cablevision court challenge to the program access rules.
The companies promised to abide by those rules and voluntarily extend them to
retransmission consent negotiations as well, regardless of the outcome of the
court case if the companies are allowed to merge some of their operations.

Comcast says it isn't opposing the access rules, and has no plans to challenge
the FCC's recent ruling narrowing/closing the so-called terrestrial exemption.

The program access rules require a vertically integrated company--with both
content production and distribution businesses--to make the programming and/or
networks in which they have a financial interest accessible to competitors on
nondiscriminatory terms and conditions.

Comcast and NBCU made that pledge two weeks ago at Hill hearings on their
proposed $30 billion joint venture. The D.C. Circuit could come out with a
decision any day on the program access rules.

In a letter to Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts, a dozen groups including Media
Access Project, Consumer Federation, Free Press, Public Knowledge, the
Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association and the American Cable
Association, called it "highly unusual that Comcast would continue to
spend shareholder dollars to overturn an FCC regulation that it has promised to
follow regardless of the case's outcome."

In a separate statement, Free Press said: "Conspicuously absent from
Comcast-NBCU's list of promises was any acknowledgement that Comcast is at the
same time asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to toss out the
most meaningful feature of the program access rules: The ban on exclusive
contracts between cable operators and affiliated cable networks delivered via

"Free Press appears to be confused," said Comcast spokesperson Sena
Fitzmaurice. "We have challenged only the FCC's extension of the rule that
prohibits cable companies from entering into exclusive contracts that better
enable them to compete with satellite companies who have exclusive content like
NFL Sunday Ticket.  If Free Press really wants to help consumers and
ensure a level playing field, they will join us in calling for an end to
DirecTV's exclusive control of NFL Sunday Ticket. "

"We did not challenge the rule that ensures that cable-affiliated
programmers must charge fair and non-discriminatory rates to competing cable,
satellite and phone companies in that case," said Fitzmaurice in an
e-mailed statement. "We do and will abide by those rules.

Free Press also said they were worried Comcast would take aim at a recent FCC
decision narrowing or closing the terrestrial exemption and potentially
subjecting terrestrially-delivered program networks to the same kind of access
requirements on satellite-delivered nets, or at least held that satellite
delivery did not insulate those nets from claims of unfairly withholding
access. "It remains to be seen whether Comcast will also challenge the
FCC's newly adopted regulations closing the so-called terrestrial loophole in
the program access rules," said Free Press.

"As to the FCC's recent decision that may permit competitors under certain
circumstances to seek access to terrestrially delivered cable content,"
said Fitzmaurice, "We have no plans to challenge that ruling--we will
address any complaints if and when they are filed, but we have almost no
terrestrially-delivered content outside of our Philadelphia sports

John Eggerton

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.