Originally published: January 18, 2011
Last updated: January 21, 2011 - 2:25pm
After the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice approved the Comcast-NBC Universal merger, there was lots of commentary.
"This is a proud and exciting day for Comcast," said Comcast chairman Brian Brian Roberts. "We are grateful for the leadership of FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney, the other FCC commissioners and their staffs for the months of hard work that went into reviewing an unprecedented number of documents and public comments." GE Chairman Jeff Immelt suggested GE wasn't as much saying goodbye to NBCU as sharing the wealth with Comcast, which is buying a 51% stake, but with an option to buy out GE over time.
House Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) joined Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Vice Chairman Terry Lee (R-NE) saying, "We are glad Comcast can now get back to doing business and creating jobs, but the price of doing so should not be coerced compliance with the heavy-handed tactics of an overreaching FCC. The FCC’s efforts to circumvent both the free market and courts by railroading job- and investment-harming net neutrality provisions, as well as regulation of nascent Internet-distributed video, represent more of a Chicago-style shakedown than the thoughtful deliberation this transaction deserved. We will be examining whether changes in the FCC’s transaction review process are needed as we exercise congressional oversight in the weeks to come."
Rep Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said, "Once again, it appears that this FCC is holding an employers ability to plan, grow and prosper hostage to their political desires."
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said he was "very disappointed" that the FCC did not impose stronger conditions on the Comcast/NBCU merger. Chairman Rockefeller said the consumer protections were not strong enough. He was particularly unhappy that there was not a condition on cable rates "because rates that rise as much as three times the rate of inflation deserve a close look."
Public Knowledge Legal Director Harold Feld said, "From the beginning of this process, Public Knowledge’s primary focus has been on the potential for this merger to slow the development of online video as a new choice for consumers. We are pleased that the conditions in this merger, if properly enforced, will allow new online competitors to cable to develop, much as satellite service did in the 1990s. We are also pleased that the FCC has committed to consider a notice of proposed rulemaking on program carriage. We look forward to working with the FCC to ensure that independent programmers enjoy the freedom to distribute their programming both online and offline." After the Dept of Justice announcement, Feld added, "The Justice Department was correct to undertake such a rigorous antitrust analysis of the Comcast takeover of NBC Universal. Such a transaction could be exceedingly harmful to the public and to competition in the online video and program access arenas."
Free Press President and CEO Josh Silver said: "Today’s decision by the FCC represents a failure of the agency to live up to its own public interest mandate, as well as Barack Obama’s promise to promote media diversity and prevent excessive media concentration. This deal will give Comcast unprecedented control over both media content and the physical network that delivers it. The FCC has opened Pandora’s Box, and we can soon expect a whole new swarm of mega-mergers that will have dire consequences for media and the Internet."
Parul P. Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union, said, “By approving the transaction with conditions and enforcement measures, regulators are acknowledging that the combination of two media giants poses some very real threats. Based on what we now know about some of the conditions attached to the transaction, we think that they are significant and could help to limit anti-consumer, anti-competitive behavior by Comcast-NBCU. The conditions that are reportedly attached to the deal certainly provide some needed assurances for consumers. Regulators appear to be addressing the right issues, and they are well aware that there must be strict and swift enforcement of them. Toothless enforcement could allow Comcast-NBCU to engage in delaying tactics and anti-competitive behavior until the conditions just expire.”
Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America, said, “The Justice Department’s expected action would address the problem of vertical leverage in the video market more aggressively than at any time in decades. Defining the video market to include Online Video Distribution as part of the market and extending DOJ oversight are critical to promoting a more competitive, consumer-friendly video market. The enforcement activities of the DOJ add a new dimension to efforts to promote and protect the public interest that is extremely important."
Andrew Jay Schwartzman, Senior Vice President and Policy Director of Media Access Project: “Free expression online and on television will be worse off as a result of today’s action. Commissioner Copps was right to dissent, since the conditions adopted by the Commission do not go far enough to justify approval of this deal. Perhaps the worst thing about today’s announcement is that it sends a message to other phone and cable companies that they, too, can buy up content providers. We may be about to see a new wave of media consolidation as a result."
Bloomberg, which had argued Comcast would have the ability and incentive to favor its own business news nets over Bloomberg, pointed to the condition requiring Comcast to put competitor's business news channels in the same neighborhood as its own.
The Independent Film & Television Alliance had been an early critic of the deal and what it saw as its potential for reducing opportunities for independent distributors. But after striking an agreement with Comcast, the group withdrew its objections. On Tuesday, IFTA pointed out that the closing of the deal, expected to be by the end of the month, would trigger their July 12 agreement, which would provide "real opportunities for independent producers on the Comcast and NBC platforms, and increase the public's access to diverse programming," said IFTA President Jean Prewitt.
The American Cable Association, which pushed for conditions to aid it in program disputes, was pleased with the help it got through two key remedies in the FCC order. One is that operators with 1.5 million or fewer subs can designate a bargaining agent to take Comcast/NBCU to baseball-style arbitration and providers with 600,000 or fewer subs will only have to pay for their legal fees and costs if they lose.
"The conditions placed on the merger fall well short of serving the public interest. On a far-too-regular basis, the American public is held hostage in disputes between television programmers and video distributors; and this regime is only likely to grow worse over time," said Parents Television Council President Time Winter. "The public can be sure of one thing today: It is business as usual with the lobbyist powerbrokers in Washington."
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