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Allbritton Raises Red Flags over Comcast-NBC Merger

Allbritton Communications, owner of NewsChannel 8, a local Washington, D.C.-area 24-hour cable news channel, has voiced concerns to the FCC over the impending launch of a local all news channel by Washington, D.C. NBC O&O WRC-TV. The station group says such a launch could have “potentially grave implications on competition and public interest” in the Washington, D.C. market in light of NBC’s proposed merger with Comcast.

Allbritton’s concerns prompted a visit by Michael J. Copps late last week, in which Allbritton Chairman and CEO Robert Allbritton told the FCC Commissioner that they feared that, if the merger goes through, a Comcast-owned WRC would gain unfair advantage over NewsChannel 8 in regards to channel placement, tier carriage, Internet applications and sales activities. Such favoritism towards WRC’s all-news channel could lead “to the very real possibility of the loss of a locally owned, independent news voice in this critical market,” wrote Jerald N. Fritz, Allbritton legal counsel, in an ex parte filing with the FCC. Possible remedies could include divestiture of the owned stations in markets where Comcast has a significant presence to enforceable requirements for non-discriminatory carriage terms at marketplace rates were proposed.

In addition, Allbritton also claimed that Comcast, which owns a local “Spotlight” sales organization could combine its sales force with the WRC-TV local sales group, giving it an unfair advantage because Spotlight also represents the local Cox cable system in Fairfax County, Virginia as well as the Verizon FiOS system in the Washington market. The “unprecedented power” represented by Comcast’s Spotlight division “will dramatically increase with the acquisition of a sales force representing the NBC station and its new local news channel,” Fritz wrote, “further exacerbating the anxiety over both the horizontal and vertical aspects of the Comcast-NBC Universal combination.”