Comcast Critics Write President

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Hitching its latest criticism of the proposed Comcast/NBCU joint venture to the announcement that Comcast's COO Steve Burke would replace Jeff Zucker atop NBCU if the deal is approved, the Coalition for Competition In Media wrote a letter to the President Monday saying it wanted him to make sure the merger received "the scrutiny that it deserves."

Having scrutinized the announcement about Burke, the coalition said replacing NBC leadership before the deal is approved -- citing reports that Burke has been a "steady presence" at NBC already -- is a "a complete affront to the regulatory process and the job asked of your administration to protect consumers and competition."

It also cites Comcast's lobbying for the deal through millions in campaign and charitable donations as cause for concern.

The coalition comprises a number of deal critics who forged an alliance. They include Bloomberg, Common Cause, Free Press, Media Access Project, the Parents Television Council and the Writers Guild East and West.

Given Comcast's well-documented business practices, consumers are threatened by increased cable and Internet rates, fewer entertainment choices and independent voices in news and other content, and less competitive pressure to improve Comcast's notoriously poor customer service.

"Given Comcast's well-documented business practices," the group wrote, "consumers are threatened by increased cable and Internet rates, fewer entertainment choices and independent voices in news and other content, and less competitive pressure to improve Comcast's notoriously poor customer service."

Comcast has countered that the deal will increase diverse voices, including striking deals to that effect with a number of minority groups; increase news content, another pledge it has made in a public interest filing at the FCC, and mean more investment in NBC -- GE has clearly signaled it is a business it wants to get out of, giving Comcast control of the joint venture with the expectation Comcast will eventually buy GE's stake.

Copies of the letter were also sent to the FCC and Justice, which are currently vetting the deal, with handicappers looking for a decision, likely a conditional "yes," by the fourth quarter or early 2011.

"The Comcast NBCU transaction has already been the most thoroughly reviewed merger in media history -- with one of the longest FCC comment periods and the most congressional hearings, six, of any similar transaction," the company responded in a statement. "For a lobbying coalition funded by our competitors to imply the review of this transaction has not been deliberate and thorough is insulting to the Congress, the FCC, and the Department of Justice. We're proud of the over 1,000 local community organizations, elected officials, diversity organizations and others that have expressed their support for this transaction that is pro-competitive and fully in the public interest."

Comcast did not comment on the characterization of Burke as a "steady presence," but a source did say on background that it was fairly common for executives in such a transaction to meet and plan the integration of the company. In this case, the source said, given that NBCU was not a stand-alone company, all the human resources and pay and legal functions that have been handled by GE and will now have to be handled by Comcast.

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