Black ministry channel files 'discrimination' complaint against Comcast

Protesters for the Word Network marched at the Comcast Center in Philadelphia earlier this year. They had been bused from the Detroit area.

The spat between the Word Network and Comcast Corp. has spilled into the lap of the Federal Communications Commission.

In an FCC complaint, the Word Network says Comcast unfairly hurt the African American ministry cable channel when it dropped it from seven million U.S. homes earlier this year. The complaint also says that Comcast improperly attempted to acquire the Word’s digital rights in negotiations in late 2016.

The complaint says Comcast’s action against the Word Network violated the agreement the cable giant signed with the FCC in 2011 that allowed it to acquire the NBCUniversal entertainment conglomerate.

The legal basis of the complaint is that Comcast “discriminated” against the Word by treating it less favorably than Comcast-owned NBCUniversal cable channels. The Word is considered an independent programmer and is not owned by Comcast.

In January, Comcast cut the Word’s distribution to five million homes, from 12 million. Philadelphia was one of the cities that lost access to the Word, which Comcast replaced with a competing black ministry channel, the Impact Network.

Comcast has rejected the Word’s discrimination claims and denies that it improperly sought the network’s digital rights.

“The claims by the Word Network are baseless, and we hope the FCC will agree,” Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said in a statement this week. “Comcast is broadly distributing Impact, an independent, African American-owned service, in which Comcast has no ownership. Comcast still carries the Word Network, which is not African American-owned, to millions of our customers. The distribution decisions for these two networks are based on our reasonable business judgment.”

Over the winter, hundreds of protesters — some of them paid by churches — traveled by bus from Michigan to picket Comcast headquarters in Philadelphia over its decision on the Word, which is based outside Detroit in Southfield, Mich. Black ministers pay for airtime to preach on the Word.