FCC Dismisses Word Net Complaint Against Comcast

The FCC has dismissed The Word Network's complaint against Comcast, concluding the cable operator did not violate the exclusivity and unfair practices conditions imposed in its merger with NBCUniversal.

The FCC's Media Bureau concluded that TWN had not made a case for the violations. That dismissal is not to be confused with the Media Bureau's rejection of a TWC complaint against Comcast last October, when it concluded the cable operator had not violated the nondiscrimination and financial interest conditions from that same merger.

The Word Network, a religious network targeted to African Americans, had been asking the FCC and Federal Trade Commission to investigate "the unjust removal of The Word Network" by Comcast, while the cable operator had argued that it had hardly "removed" the network, was still carrying it in millions of homes and that the reduction in Word carriage was due to an increase in distribution for The Impact Network, a minority-owned network also aimed at African-American viewers but with what Comcast called a "broader array" of programming. Last December, TWN, a religious network targeted at African American viewers, complained to the FCC (and FTC) about what it called "the unjust removal of The Word Network," as well as diversity and retrans-related issues."

In the most recent complaint, the FCC said that Comcast's demand for non-exclusive digital rights as part of its carriage agreement with the religious network did not violate the exclusivity condition in the NBCU deal because that condition prohibited Comcast from “enter[ing] into or enforc[ing] any agreement or arrangement for carriage on Comcast’s MVPD system that forbids, limits, or creates incentives to limit a broadcast network or cable programmer’s provision of its Video Programming to one or more OVDs..."

The FCC conceded that Comcast and TWN had very different views of the negotiations, but declined to submit that dispute to a hearing before the FCC's Administrative Law Judge, citing the time and expense and the lack of a prima facia (on its face) against Comcast on the discrimination charge. As to the unfair practices claim [the NBCU condition that prohibits Comcast from “engag[ing] in unfair methods of competition or unfair or deceptive acts or practices" in pursuit of hindering competitors access to over-the-top programming], the Bureau concluded that here, too, TWN did not make a case that a demand for nonexclusive OTT rights hindered the access of competitors to TWN's online programming.

And since TWN did not make a case for Comcast asking for exclusive rights, the Bureau did not have to rule on whether such a demand would have violated the unfair and/or deceptive practices condition. 

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.