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Public Knowledge: Fox/Cablevison Should Be Lesson for Comcast/NBCU

Comcast/NBCU deal opponent Public Knowledge used the Fox/NBCU retrans battle as ammunition against the merger.

In pitches
to staffers of Democratic FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Republican
Meredith Attwell Baker, Public Knowledge representatives cited Fox's
blocking of online content to Cablevision ISP
customers as an example of the kind of power Comcast could also wield
over online content.

"Since NBC has the same control over Hulu as Fox, it could engage in the same kind of blocking as Fox did," said the group.

PK also
referenced NBC, ABC and CBS's absence of a content deal with Google TV
(which it characterized as "blocking") to fuel its argument. A network
source familiar with Fox's move confirmed at the time that it had
indeed briefly blocked access, arguing that if viewers could access Fox
programming online, there was less incentive for Cablevision to come to
terms on a cable carriage deal. Access was restored
after Fox concluded that Cablevision ISPS who did not also take video
service should not lose access due to the video impasse, said the

talking about online blocking and access--Public Knowledge also invoked
Comcast's blocking of BitTorrent peer-to-peer file transfers--the group
made it clear it was not suggesting Fox or the
networks not providing content to Google TV were running afoul or
network neutrality rules. "As PK has stated before, these blocking
incidents are not net neutrality violations since they are not done by
an ISP. But they are problems for consumers nonetheless,"
the group said in a footnote to its ex parte filing about the meetings.

ISPs have
argued that network neutrality rules should apply to programming and
applications providers control over content if they are also going to be
applied to networks. PK disagrees. It says that,
as a general rule, content providers should be free to make content
available on their own terms, but that, as Public Knowledge says is the
case with Google TV, they should not "behave anticompetitively."

The FCC has
been asking a bunch of questions from both companies about access to
online content as it vets the merger, but Fox's move during
the Cablevision retrans fight, which was resolved over the
weekend, prompted new calls from deal critics for the FCC to block or
condition the merger.

Public Knowledge has filed a petition to deny the Comast/NBCU deal.