The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday night that Comcast Corp. has to put the Bloomberg TV business channel near other news channels in so-called news neighborhoods in the 35 largest television markets.
The case was viewed as a test of the FCC's will to enforce voluntary commitments made in 2011 as part of the giant Comcast/NBCUniversal deal.
Thursday's decision is a win for Bloomberg TV, which insisted that Comcast abide by the "neighborhooding" condition in the FCC's agreement allowing the merger deal to close.
Bloomberg TV had fought for the condition, saying that Comcast had an incentive to exile it far from other news channels on its cable systems, which have 22 million subscribers. If it were so exiled, Bloomberg TV said, it could not compete directly with CNBC, the market-leading business-news channel owned by Comcast.
After reluctantly agreeing to the neighborhooding condition in merger negotiations, Comcast disputed that it had to relocate the Bloomberg TV channel to news neighborhoods after the deal closed.
Comcast said it would be an inconvenience to subscribers and a violation of its First Amendment right to place channels where it wanted.
Greg Babyak, the head of government affairs for Bloomberg L.P., said, "The Commission was correct in January 2011, when it deemed the condition necessary to ensure that the merger was in the public interest. … We very much appreciate the diligent work of so many at the Commission and in the public interest community in promoting the availability to the public of diverse sources of news."
Comcast could appeal the decision and indicated it might. "We are disappointed that the FCC failed to constrain the Media Bureau's overly broad construction of the News Neighborhooding Condition," the company's spokeswoman in Washington, Sena Fitzmaurice, said. "As it is currently being interpreted, the condition goes well beyond the express language of the FCC's Comcast-NBCUniversal order and what is justified by the evidence in that case. The FCC's interpretation very likely will lead to significant and unwarranted burdens on us, our customers, and other programming networks. We are evaluating our options."
Mignon Clyburn, acting FCC chairman, said Thursday in a statement: "I voted to approve the transaction because I believed that if the parties lived up to their voluntary commitments and the conditions we imposed on them, the deal would result in more benefits to consumers than harms. That's why I'm pleased that we are taking this step today to hold Comcast to one of its commitments."
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai dissented partly in the action, saying he did not agree with the agency's definition of a "neighborhood" - four news or business-news channels within five channel positions.
The FCC order said Comcast had 60 days to comply.