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FCC Wants to Know More About Dish’s New Web-TV Service

The agency requested data from Dish after it complained that Comcast’s deal to acquire Time Warner Cable could hurt Sling or other online video services.


Cord cutters aren’t the only ones curious about Dish’s new Sling online TV service. The Federal Communications Commission asked Dish Wednesday about how it reached agreements to carry channels on its new service, as the agency’s review of Comcast’s $45 billion deal to acquire Time Warner Cable heats up.

The agency asked Dish for “any and all of its agreements with the following programming entities relating to video programming to be provided on Dish’s Sling TV service,” including “all documents relating to each negotiation”: A&E Networks, CBS, Comcast, ABC, E.W. Scripps and Turner Broadcasting System.

The request comes just a few weeks after FCC lawyers also asked Google, Amazon, Hulu, Home Box Office, Netflix and several Internet backbone companies to submit details about their online video services along with their interconnection or peering agreements with various companies.

Together, the data requests suggest that FCC lawyers are closely examining how Comcast’s Time Warner Cable deal could impact the consumer broadband market and nascent efforts by companies like Dish and Sony to provide new Web-TV services that could represent a cheaper, smaller alternative to traditional cable bundles.

The FCC request for more information about Sling came just a week after Dish lawyers met with some of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s top aides and agency lawyers overseeing the Comcast deal review. Dish lawyers argued that Comcast itself has acknowledged the broadband market is national — a key distinction since the Time Warner Cable deal would give the cable giant an estimated 47 percent market share of wired broadband households with download speeds of 25 Mbps. (That’s the soon-to-be new definition of broadband, if Wheeler has his way.)

Consumer group Free Press’ analysis of wireline broadband market share
Consumer group Free Press’ analysis of wireline broadband market share

Dish’s lawyers also argued that a post-merger Comcast would have “much greater scale than any other pay-TV provider,” which would allow it to more easily “restrict the ability of third-party programmers to grant online rights” to services like Dish’s Sling. “Dish already has experienced difficulties in obtaining certain [over-the-top] rights from third-party programmers, possibly because of restrictive contractual limitations imposed by Comcast on such programmers,” the company’s lawyers said.

Dish is among the companies that have asked regulators to kill the deal over concerns that it would give Comcast too much market power and could limit the ability of rivals to compete, particularly with online video services.

Comcast* has rejected those arguments and has repeatedly said that its acquisition of Time Warner Cable won’t decrease competition in either the video or Internet markets because the two companies already don’t compete in the same markets. Comcast has argued that regulators should look at broadband competition on a local, not national level.

A Comcast spokeswoman declined to comment about Dish’s comments or the FCC’s data request.

FCC and Justice Department lawyers are currently reviewing the deal but aren’t expected to make a decision about whether to block it or approve it with conditions until March. Senior FCC officials are currently focused on getting Wheeler’s new net neutrality proposal out the door in early February and aren’t expected to turn their full attention to the Comcast deal until after that’s done.

* Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is a minority investor in Revere Digital, Re/code’s parent company.

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