Comcast Commitment Issue?

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Washington — Republican Federal
Communications Commission member
Robert McDowell last week said that
Comcast agreed to voluntarily abide by the
agency’s network-neutrality rules whether
or not they hold up in court because it was
desperate to get its joint venture for control
of NBC Universal approved and would
have agreed to almost anything.

That observation came during a marathon
oversight hearing in the House Communications
& Internet Subcommittee on
the FCC’s new network-neutrality rules.

Asked by ranking member Rep. Anna
Eshoo (D-Calif.) why he did not dissent
against the network-neutrality conditions in the Comcast-
NBCU merger, he pointed out that they were not conditions,
but commitments made as part of a side agreement.

A senior FCC official, speaking on background after
the hearing, took issue with McDowell’s characterization
of the Comcast’s network-neutrality commitments.
The deal conditions were indeed enforceable, the official
said, pointing out that they were in the ordering clause of
the approval.

“We appreciate the hard work of all the FCC commissioners
and the staff, and the Justice Department, on
our transaction review,” said Comcast in a statement. “It
presented some novel issues on which the FCC and DOJ
worked hard to develop fair answers. A workable compromise
was achieved on all issues including the open internet,
and will result in benefits to consumers and allow our
business to grow.”

A company source familiar with top executives’ thinking
said that Comcast believes the conditions are enforceable
by the commission.

In an interview with Multichannel News after the hearing,
McDowell elaborated on his answer to Eshoo.

“The key here is that the network-neutrality condition
does not appear in the appendix listing the merger conditions,”
he said. “That was an important precondition to
[Republican] commissioner [Meredith] Baker and I voting
for it.”

McDowell supported the merger, but opposed the deal’s
network-neutrality conditions, just as he opposed the
FCC’s new network-neutrality rules.

“Comcast struck its own deal with the chairman’s office
with whatever commitments they agreed to and Comcast
agreed that they would be enforceable and the chairman’s
office decided to staple it to the back of the order,” he said.