This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Almost 14 months after Utah-based Spanish-language station KPNZ-Channel 24 disappeared from the Comcast cable lineup, the station's owners have filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.
Liberman Broadcasting, which owns the Spanish-language network Estrella, charges that Comcast is "discriminating" against it "to benefit its own networks, Telemundo and NBC Universo," violating both FCC regulations and the terms of the Comcast-NBC Universal merger agreement imposed by the FCC.
Additionally, Liberman charges that Comcast is "unlawfully demanding that Estrella relinquish digital rights" to its programming.
This stems from a dispute over Estrella stations in Salt Lake City, Denver and Houston, which Comcast stopped carrying in February 2014. That was shortly after Liberman switched the three stations from "must-carry" status (meaning Comcast would be required to carry them but not pay for them) to "retransmission consent" (meaning the two sides would negotiate how much Comcast would pay to carry them).
The two sides don't even agree whether Liberman pulled the stations off Comcast or if Comcast dropped them.
Basically, Liberman is claiming that Comcast is favoring Spanish-language channels it owns at the expense of Estrella.
According to Liberman's complaint, "Rather than provide expanded distribution to proven-ratings-success Estrella TV, Comcast has padded its channel lineup with programming of dramatically lesser audience appeal. While such decisions allow Comcast to claim cosmetic credit for 'supporting' Spanish language programming, they are indefensible as legitimate business decisions designed to maximize value provided to Comcast subscribers."
Liberman also charges that Comcast is improperly demanding digital rights to its programming and that that runs afoul of the 1992 Cable Act.
Not surprisingly, Comcast disputes everything in Liberman's filing. "Liberman Broadcasting has no case based on the law or the facts," Comcast said in a prepared statement, adding that it "continues to carry Estrella TV to about six million subscribers across the country" in other markets.
"Our decision not to pay the exorbitant price demanded by Liberman was a reasonable business judgment in the interest of our customers and one that has been confirmed over the past year given the absence of any demand for Estrella TV in these markets."
While Estrella said its ratings have suffered a "collapse" in Salt Lake City, Denver and Houston, Comcast said it has not lost subscribers since the stations were removed from its lineup.