Cable companies are rarely among the public’s favorite people. Things have progressed far beyond the traditional complaints of high bills and frustrating contracts however. Both Time Warner Cable and Comcast have both been sued due to allegedly discriminating against African-American owned businesses in regards to how the giants decide on which channels they carry.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, television personality Byron Allen and his Entertainment Studios Networks has joined with the National Association of African-American Owned Media in a modification of an earlier lawsuit which had been previously thrown out. According to the complaint, the issue is:
[There are] two separate paths for contracting for channel carriage: one for non-minority-owned channels and a separate, but not equal, process for African American-owned channels.
Channel carriage simply refers to the rebroadcasting of the channel by the cable or satellite provider. According to the suit, there is a 2010 Memorandum of Understanding from Comcast which dictates a separate process that African-American owned channels must go through, which also limits the number of channels that Comcast will carry. Even if successful, the contract terms under the MOU are said to be inferior. While the suit accepts there are a number of channels that have successfully navigated the process, the complaint argues that stations like Revolt, Aspire, and The Africa Channel are bad examples because they are actually run by larger, white-owned businesses. They do have some African-American backing though. Sean Combs is a major investor in Revolt and Magic Johnson is part of Aspire.
Comcast, for their part, is not taking the suit laying down. A spokesman stated:
While we do not generally comment on pending litigation, the continuation of this frivolous lawsuit continues to represent nothing more than a string of inflammatory, inaccurate, and unsupported allegations.
Comcast points to an earlier lawsuit by the same organization which was thrown out of court because the judge was unable to infer any liability upon Comcast, even if he accepted the plaintiffs entire argument as true. Comcast claims over 100 channels geared toward diverse audiences, which include multiple networks owned and operated by minorities. Comcast feels this amended suit will be thrown out as the original one was.
The idea that there is a “separate, but not equal” process for minority-owned cable channels is a fairly damning accusation. Even if the process was equal, the fact that it’s separate would still not stand up to the US Constitution. At the same time, the fact that a similar suit has already been thrown out once is not a good place for the plaintiffs to be starting in this case. The previous suit included claims against individuals the plaintiff felt were complicit in keeping African-American channels out, including Al Sharpton. The new suit removes those allegations.