Comcast Antitrust Fight Goes to First Circuit


      BOSTON (CN) – Boston NBC affiliate WHDH-TV’s fight for its life against Comcast is headed for the First Circuit.
     Comcast bought NBC in 2011 and wants to develop its own station to carry the NBC banner in Boston.
     In a March 10 federal antitrust complaint against Comcast, WHDH said Comcast’s acquisition of NBC grew the brand exponentially, meaning that the company had misrepresented its intent to protect the public interest.
     WHDH also questioned Comcast’s conduct with the Federal Communications Commission, which had to approve the acquisition. “Comcast made promises — to its affiliates, the public, and the FCC — and its conduct in Boston strongly suggests that it never intended to keep them,” WHDH said.
     “On the strength of those promises, Comcast won approval for a transaction that greatly increased its market power. Upon obtaining that approval, Comcast reneged on its promises and began in secret to implement plans to exercise its newly-acquired power and stifle a leading competitor in the Boston market, all while misrepresenting to WHDH its intention to keep its promise to negotiate an extension of its affiliation.”
     Since it bought NBC, Comcast has refused to renegotiate WHDH’s contract, the station says in its lawsuit. It claims that Comcast has a contractual obligation to renegotiate, and that its plan to create a new station in concert with its existing cable offerings would allow the media giant to manipulate advertising prices in violation of state antitrust laws.
     It also claims that Comcast’s plan to create a new NBC station in Boston violates an agreement between Comcast and the NBC Affiliate Association (NBCAA), which enabled Comcast’s acquisition.
     Comcast filed a motion to dismiss on May 16, for failure to state a claim.
     Comcast claims its contract with WHDH expires in January 2017, and includes no obligation to renegotiate. It also claims that WHDH was not a party to the NBCAA agreement, so the station has no standing to sue for an alleged violation of the agreement.
     “WHDH therefore seeks an injunction not to preserve the status quo, but to compel the extension of its contract,” Comcast wrote. “Comcast has found no precedent for the entry of preliminary injunctive relief to compel the extension of a private contractual relationship beyond the contract term absent a statute or regulation imposing limitations on non-renewal.”
     U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns dismissed the case on May 17. WHDH appealed to the First Circuit on Tuesday.
     Neither Comcast nor WHDH responded to requests for comment.

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