Comcast asks FCC to toss Estrella/Liberman complaint

Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) has asked the FCC to toss out a complaint filed against it by Liberman Broadcasting, which claims the MSO is discriminating against its Estrella TV network to favor the Spanish-language programmers it acquired during its NBCUniversal purchase.

"There is nothing Liberman Broadcasting has asserted in its Complaint— and nothing it can assert in reply to this answer — that could lead the commission to conclude that Liberman has made out a prima facie case of discrimination on the basis of affiliation that would require the time, burden, and expense of a hearing, much less the extensive discovery that would precede that hearing," Comcast said in a heavily redacted filing to the FCC this week.

Ticking off a number of legal reasons why the agency should dismiss the complaint, Comcast said Liberman's "carriage" beef is invalid because Estrella is a broadcaster, not a cable network. Further, the MSO said Liberman missed the statute of limitations on filing its complaint. 

"As Liberman concedes in its complaint, Comcast distributes dozens of non-affiliated Spanish-language and Hispanic-focused broadcast and cable networks, including at least nine it has launched on its systems in the last five years," Comcast added. "This does not reflect affiliation-based favoritism, but the opposite: Comcast's good faith decision to carry the networks its customers want to watch."

Lieberman filed an FCC complaint against Comcast in early April, accusing the conglomerate of blacking out its owned and operated stations in Denver, Houston and Salt Lake City in order to favor its own Spanish-language programming assets, which include Telemundo and NBC Universo.

Since Comcast dropped the three stations, "Estrella's ratings have collapsed," Liberman Broadcasting President and CEO Lenard Liberman said during a morning press conference to announce the complaint.

"When you look at all the MVPDs who carry us, Comcast is the outlier," he said. "Whether it's Time Warner Cable or Charter or AT&T or Dish, we've always had good conversations, and they've acknowledged our our place in the market. But in the case of Comcast, they've always been dismissive of our ratings and our value in the market."

Liberman responded with this statement: "Comcast's answer to Liberman's ... complaint is predicated on a highly selective and inadequate version of the facts underlying this case, from which Comcast draws erroneous conclusions. Comcast relies on law as it wishes it to be, not as it is. LBI is a quintessential video programming vendor fully entitled to the protections afforded by the program carriage statute and regulations, as well as the FCC's Comcast/NBCUniversal Merger Order.  As LBI has demonstrated in the Complaint and will reaffirm in reply to Comcast's answer, LBI's timely filed complaint against Comcast is well grounded in fact and law on all counts and warrants relief from the FCC."

Related articles:
Comcast/NBCU merger threatening programmer diversity, Public Knowledge and Common Cause say
Estrella operator Liberman files FCC complaint against Comcast, says it's favoring Telemundo
Estrella TV tells Congress that Comcast is forcing it off the air

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