Conglom sez it's complying with FCC terms of NBCU merger

Comcast said that it has met, and in some cases exceeded, its commitment and conditions it made last year as part of its combination with NBCUniversal.

The compliance report was the first that it has to file with the FCC over the next six years as part of a lengthy list of conditions that the agency and the Department of Justice placed on the transaction, having to do with diversity, localism and online competition.

The conglom says that it is ahead of schedule on commitments to boost independently owned channels, although it is currently in a dispute with Bloomberg LP over one provision.

One of its commitments was to launch 10 independent channels by 2019. Last week, Comcast announced that it would launch of four minority-owned channels on its digital basic tier, including ventures with Magic Johnson and Sean Combs, and the network also added BBC World News over the past 12 months.

Comcast also said that it increased carriage of independent networks on its lineup, including Africa Channel by two million homes, Mnet by four million homes and TVOne by 600,000 homes.

“As the report shows, our commitments and conditions, though extensive, have been incorporated into our business activities and become part of the company’s ‘DNA,’ ” said Comcast exec VP David L. Cohen.

Other commitments had to do with boosting the output of local programming. Comcast said that it invested “millions of dollars” to expand local news at its 10 owned and operated NBC stations, including hiring 130 new employees, launching consumer and investigative units in five markets, and launching digital multicast channels. It also plans a multimillion dollar upgrade of the infrastructure at Telemundo stations in top Hispanic markets.

Comcast said it boosted NBC stations’ local news and information programming by 2,000 hours, double the amount of its original commitment. NBCU also partnered with nonprofit news organizations in four additional markets, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

Another commitment was to make a greater investment in NBC. Comcast said that it spent an additional $300 million in the past year on NBCU programming — $200 million of which was for NBC primetime.

The conglom also vowed to boost broadband adoption with a program to offer low-cost Internet service to low-income households. Comcast said that it had signed up more than 41,000 homes. It also expanded its broadband network by 2,044 miles, and expanded service to 33 rural communities, surpassing its original pledge.

The conglom asserted it had gone “above and beyond” commitments to boost the diversity in the industry. Among other things, the company said that it launched a $20 million venture capital fund that is supporting the development of five startup businesses.

Comcast noted in its filing that Bloomberg is challenging Comcast’s compliance with a condition that if it groups, or “neighborhoods,” news and business channels on its channel lineup, it must carry all such channels in that same neighborhood.

Bloomberg filed a complaint against Comcast last year, charging that it had not placed its business channel in the same neighborhood as CNBC. On Tuesday Bloomberg charged that Comcast was engaging in “revisionist language that deliberately misstates” its condition. Comcast says that it has not developed any new news neighborhoods and therefore has no obligation, while Bloomberg says that the condition clearly states that it applies to news clusters “now or in the future.”

“They are simply reading ‘now’ out of the language,” said Greg Baybak, head of government affairs for Bloomberg LP. The FCC’s media bureau is expected to issue a recommendation on Bloomberg’s complaint soon.

The federal government also required that Comcast relinquish control over Hulu, which it has, but it also has to continue to make NBCU programming available on “substantially the same terms and conditions” as its partners in the venture, News Corp. and Disney. Comcast said that it has continued to provide that content, but said that comparing and evaluating the Hulu agreements of Disney and News Corp. “has proved extremely complicated in practice.”

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