Comcast Decreases Customers' Access to MSNBC

Portland, Oregon is a fairly progressive corner of the country. Multnomah County, which largely overlaps with the city, delivered 71.5 percent of its vote to John Kerry in 2004 (.pdf). KPOJ, the city's liberal talk station, is the second highest rated AM station in the market, and ranks in the top-10 most highly rated stations overall. Yet according to cable conglomerate Comcast, the city doesn't make for a good audience for MSNBC, the only cable news network that carries anyone even remotely progressive (Keith Olbermann). Kari Chisholm has the details over at Blue Oregon.

So, last Tuesday, mere hours before the presidential debate, MSNBC disappeared from basic cable on the Comcast system in Portland. I waited on hold, forever, to find out what happened - and then posted a rant here at BlueOregon. After all, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann is just about the only progressive voice on cable news.

[...]

And now we know [why MSNBC wasn't available]. Over the weekend, I got an official statement from NBC's corporate headquarters. An MSNBC spokesperson (who asked to be otherwise anonymous) wrote me this:

The decision to move MSNBC from its existing channel in Portland, Oregon was 100% Comcast's decision. MSNBC reaches more than 91 million U.S. homes and leads the industry in political news coverage. We believe it should be offered in every basic cable package.

This is outrageous. The cable news lineup in Portland is now: CNN, CNN Headline, CNBC, Weather Channel, FOX News, NW Cable News. Seriously. Weather.

And I'm not alone. I was hoping the Oregonian's Peter Ames Carlin would dig into this - and he has. Turns out, Comcast has some explaining to do.... and not just to bloggers.

[On] Thursday Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the city's cable communications and franchise management office, fired off a letter to Comcast complaining that the MSNBC move amounted to a backdoor rate increase. And on Friday, David Olson, the Mount Hood Cable Regulatory Commission director, said his office was preparing to send a complaint to Comcast because the cablers had yet to provide its regulators with any official notice of the lineup change.

What's Comcast's reasoning?

[Comcast spokesperson Theressa Davis] was vague about the criteria used to decide which news channel had to move -- she ticked off something about content, quality and viewership -- but it's worth noting that MSNBC consistently scores the lowest ratings of all the major cable news outlets, even in liberal Portland.

Seriously. Content? Quality? They've tons of home shopping and televangelism channels, not to mention channels devoted to re-runs and other stupidity. Want to charge someone extra money? How about moving the Golf Channel?

We're heading into a presidential year, and they're pulling the one channel that's devoted entirely to politics - and the one channel that's got one show with a progressive host? And they're leaving on FOX's entire right-wing lineup, plus CNN - with its idiotic Glenn Beck?

With Comcast making it more difficult for its customers to access news programming -- from what I understand MSNBC was moved to digital cable, which requires customers to rent a special box and thus pay for service -- it's no wonder the FCC is planning on going after the industry's anti-competitive behavior. Simply put, Comcast and other similar companies should not be telling its subscribers what they can and cannot view -- whether over the traditional cable lines, over the internet, or elsewhere.

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