Comcast Hits Keep On Coming

Publish date:
Updated on

Washington —
Comcast is still expecting
the Federal
Communications Commission
to approve its
$30 billion content joint
venture with NBC Universal
by next month,
according to a company

And if the energy
with which opponents
were trying to push
against the deal last
week was any indication, the end of deliberations over
the transactions is near.

The FCC’s informal 180-day shot clock on vetting the
deal expires in less than two weeks, but that has been an
unreliable gauge in the past, something Comcast is familiar
with. The FCC took 404 days to approve Comcast and
Time Warner Cable’s purchase of Adelphia Communications’
systems in 2005-06.


The deal’s opponents, which include small and midsized
cable operators, public-advocacy groups and at least one
independent senator, last week were using the high-profile battles between cable operators and broadcasters over
retransmission-consent fees — and even MSNBC’s brief
suspension of Countdown anchor Keith Olbermann — as
fresh ammunition in what could be a last-ditch effort to
block the deal or exact carriage conditions, including online
access conditions.

In a midweek meeting with a top aide to FCC chairman
Julius Genachowski, Public Knowledge legal director Harold
Feld continued to push for conditions to protect “overthe-
top” video, according to an FCC filing, while pointing
out that was not the group’s only issue with the deal.

Feld conceded that the government’s review is nearing
an end.

“I think that [chairman] Genachowski does not want
to be seen as a roadblock,” he told Multichannel News. “I
think that [the Department of Justice], which has a somewhat
easier job, is looking to be done by the first week of
December. If the FCC wants to move relatively soon after
that, it means the FCC has got to be zeroing in on the
key issues. I think the FCC transaction team certainly
wants to get their recommendation to the chairman by
the end of this month or the beginning of next month.”

Access to online content has been one of Public Knowledge’s
key issues, and Fox’s decision to block Cablevision
Systems high-speed Internet subscribers from its online
content during the companies’ retransmission-consent
dispute last month added fuel to the fire for those seeking
online conditions on Comcast.

The American Cable Association received much press
coverage with its assertion that NBC stations can expect
to get more than a third of a billion dollars more
in retrans bucks over the next nine years if the nation’s
largest cable company is allowed to team up with NBC

ACA, which represents smaller, independent cable operators,
said that if the Comcast-NBCU deal is approved
without the program access and negotiation conditions
it has recommended, it could mean consumers could be
paying an additional $2.4 billion over the next nine years.
The ACA wants the FCC to impose conditions on the deal
for nine years, including requiring stand-alone carriage
agreements for TV stations and regional sports networks
and outside arbitration for impasses over carriage.

The association released an economic study, conducted
by former FCC economist William Rogerson, that it said
demonstrates the “unrestrained pricing power” that will
result from the combination of Comcast’s programming
assets and the current NBCU.

Rogerson broke down the potential increases in
terms of costs to consumers — since all those operators
will be passing along their higher costs — at
$1.6 billion in fees for NBCU cable nets (USA Network,
Syfy, Bravo, MSNBC and others); $651.2 million
worth “of harm” through fees for Comcast-owned regional
sports networks; and another $355.6 million
in retransmission consent fees for NBC owned-andoperated
TV stations.

NBCU has argued to the FCC and Justice Department
that it is going to need money from retrans to fuel the
vaunted dual revenue stream it requires to invest in news
and entertainment programming. Such content is not sustainable
on advertising fees alone, it has argued.


Comcast said the FCC should reject ACA’s analysis as
flawed and as a stalling maneuver. “ACA’s efforts should
be rejected by the FCC on both substantive and procedural

Arguably the most novel attack on the deal came from
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the upper chamber’s only
independent. He said he would do whatever he could to
stop the merger. “We do not need another media giant run
by a Republican supporter of George W. Bush,” he said last
week, referring to Comcast chief operating officer Steve
Burke. “That is the lesson we should learn from the Keith
Olbermann suspension.”

A company source familiar with the political activities
of its execs says a number of them have contributed
to or raised money for Democrats, including in
this election cycle.