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Conditions proposed for Comcast-NBC deal

Rep. Rick Boucher, chairman of the subcomittee overseeing communications and technology matters, proposes five conditions that the cable giant should meet for government approval of the merger.

With concerns both inside and outside Washington over Comcast's bid to take over NBC Universal, one congressman is proposing a set of conditions that the cable giant should first meet.

Rep. Rick Boucher, who heads the subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, outlined his proposals in letters written on Monday to the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice. Boucher asked the agencies to approve the merger but under the stipulation that customers don't receive any less content than they do today.

Although the congressman is in favor of the deal, he did express concerns that consumers could be harmed by the merger between the two media giants and submitted his proposals to address those concerns.

One proposal would prevent Comcast from moving programs currently free on NBC's network and Web site to the company's TV Everywhere service, which is available only to cable subscribers. A related proposal would keep Comcast from entering exclusive contracts to offer online programs only through TV Everywhere or any other service in which it has a vested interest.

Addressing Comcast's treatment of affiliated video programming, the third proposal would prevent the company from denying its competition the right to offer programs not affiliated with Comcast. The fourth proposal would stop Comcast from moving over key sports programming, including baseball, football, hockey, and golf, to its exclusive-pay cable TV networks, thereby depriving the public of free access to popular games.

The final proposal would keep Comcast from blocking any Internet-enabled device from grabbing content from Hulu, which is partly owned by NBC, or any other online service in which it has an interest. This measure specifically addresses a situation in early 2009 in which users of Boxee were prevented from accessing programs on Hulu.

Comcast had faced a rough time in Washington earlier this year, answering a series of questions on how the proposed merger would affect competition in the industry and the needs of consumers. Politicians and consumer advocacy groups have expressed fears that the combined company would stifle competition and saddle consumers with higher cable bills and less content.

Comcast is awaiting regulatory approval to finalize its acquisition of NBCU and hopes to complete the deal by the end of the year. Assuming that the conditions are met, Boucher is asking the FCC and Justice Department to OK the merger by December 1 of this year.