Policy

’Net Terms Could Sway Copps to Vote for Merger

1/10/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — Michael Copps, a longtime critic of
media consolidation, is among those who find fault
with the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed
conditions for approving the Comcast-NBC Universal
joint venture.

The Democratic FCC commissioner might have to bite
the bullet and approve the merger anyway, though.

That’s because the merger approval is expected to include
network-neutrality conditions that are stronger
than those the FCC imposed on the Internet as a whole,
according to someone close to Copps who asked not to
be identified.

People familiar with the draft of merger conditions
said it includes specific language about which specialized
services — like an incarnation of the Xfinity
TV Online model — would be subject to networkneutrality
regulations.

That would be a statement to cable operators that they
could not avoid network-neutral access rules by classifying
Internet delivery of cable content as a specialized service.

Deal conditions circulated by FCC chairman Julius
Genachowski, also clearly state that network neutrality
extends to set-top boxes, so operators can’t
discriminate with menu guides displaying owned
versus outside content. The $13.75 billion deal would
give Comcast,
the nation’s
t op MSO,
51% control
of an entity
combining
the current
NBCU with
its own national programming
assets.

Copps wanted
condit
ions like
those included
in the
FCC’s Dec. 21 network-neutrality order, for which he
ended up voting.

He could vote against the merger on principle. But
the Republicans will almost certainly approve it, giving
Genachowski the three votes he needs.

Commissioners can only vote for or against the merger
approval as a whole, not for or against specific conditions.

Copps signaled from the outset that the merger was a
steep climb for him, and that FCC approval would have
to deal with program access, retransmission consent and
“thought about an online video world,” the source familiar
with Copps’s thinking said.

The source said the draft approval order made “great
strides” on a number of those issues, but that problems
remain.

For example, he has qualms about requiring a new
online distributor denied access to Comcast content
to win at arbitration before gaining access. Small and
midsized cable operators met with Copps staffers last
week to let them know the arbitration condition was not
much help to them.

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