Lawmakers fret over Comcast-NBCU deal

Representatives Henry Waxman and Edward Markey have some issues with the proposed Comcast-NBC Universal merger agreement, saying they worry that consumers could suffer.

Two members of Congress are having some doubts about the proposed merger between Comcast and NBC Universal.

Representatives Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) wrote letters to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, citing potential issues that could affect competition in the television market, as well as with how consumers are presented with content.

The Washington Post first reported on the letters.

"The proposed Comcast-NBCU transaction would allow Comcast to acquire an unprecedented concentration of national programming assets," Congressman Markey wrote to the FCC. "The joint venture would give Comcast the power, should it choose to exercise it, to deny programming to its cable, satellite, or online competitors or charge inflated prices for it."

Markey went on to say that he would like to see the FCC, if it approves the merger, require "arbitration and standstill mechanisms for Comcast-NBCU's broadcast and national programming." Arbitration would be used if the newly formed company faced arguments with third parties over its programming availability.

Markey went on to say that he was concerned that the combined company could "harm independent networks, particularly those that compete against Comcast-owned channels, by refusing to carry them on reasonable terms or by affording them channel placement that seriously impedes their ability to attract an audience." Markey urged the FCC to "adopt general conditions to safeguard independent programmers" from that possibility.

But Markey wasn't done. He said that post-merger, there would be a greater "likelihood" of Comcast raising the price for standalone broadband service in order to push consumers to choose its cable-broadband bundle. He said that such a plan would potentially make "cutting the cord" and watching NBC Universal content online "less financially attractive to consumers, undermining competition and choice." He asked the FCC to prohibit the company "from favoring or blocking access to lawful content" on the Web.

Waxman expressed similar concerns. In his letter to Genachowski, Waxman said that the approved merger could "trigger significant changes in the way consumers access video programming, in the way independent programmers distribute their works, and in the way all video distributors compete for customers."

Comcast first announced its intention to acquire a controlling stake in NBC Universal last December. The deal is estimated at approximately $37 billion.

Since then, Comcast has been facing scrutiny from several parties over the deal.

In February, Senate and House subcommittees traded shots with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker. Lawmakers expressed concern that the merger could have hurt competitors and consumers, while allowing Comcast and NBC Universal to benefit.

"I worked for NBC for many years," Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn) said during the hearing. "And what I know from my previous career has given me reason to be concerned--let me rephrase that, very concerned--about the potential merger of Comcast and NBC Universal."

Those hearings were followed up by Rep. Rick Boucher, writing a letter to the FCC in August urging the agency to ensure that the merger reflects the best interests of consumers. He was especially concerned about the possibility of Comcast moving NBC content that's already freely available online to its TV Everywhere service, which is available exclusively to its subscribers.

However, Boucher, like Waxman, believes the merger should be approved by the FCC this year.

Comcast did not immediately respond to request for comment.

 

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