MAP Sees No Route to Acceptable Comcast-NBCU Merger

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For some groups, no public-interest promises from Comcast and NBC Universal or conditions imposed by the FCC and/or Justice are sufficient to allow the two companies to join forces. For others, that's not the case.

As promised, Media Access Project (MAP), Free Press, Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America filed their petition late on June 21 to deny the deal at the FCC.

"Even a conditional authorization of Comcast's acquisition of control of NBCU would present too much harm to the public interest," they argue in a 150-plus page filing.

"Comcast is already the nation's largest cable operator, largest broadband service provider, and one of the leading providers of regional cable sports and news networks," they write. "Allowing it to acquire one of the nation's premier video content producers would enable Comcast to extend its existing market power, especially with respect to emerging platforms.

"The result would be higher prices, fewer programming and provider choices, and diminished media diversity. It would inhibit innovation in budding markets and encourage other similarly situated companies to follow suit."

Comcast has pledged to adhere to program-access rules that require distributors to make their owned content available to competitors, and even apply them to retransmission-consent deals that are not currently under such a regime. But MAP and company are not assuaged, though they see the issue as a systemic failure in those rules rather than a suggestion Comcast would somehow not live up to the pledge.

"While the Communications Act theoretically requires cable operators to share their programming with competitors," they said, "in practice it has proven ineffective in achieving this goal. Thus, Comcast's commitment to adhere to Commission ‘program access' rules for as long as ‘current' policies remain in effect rings hollow."

In fact, they are essentially dismissive of Comcast's public-interest commitments in general, which in include adding at least six independent channels over the next three years and increasing, kids, minority-targeted programming, and news.

"Many amount to little more than rhetorical flourish or are unenforceable and/or simply maintain the pre-merger status quo," they write. They are also particularly concerned about online video, pointing out that it is the first major media company merger since the emergence of broadband video. The FCC's current chairman has made it clear he thinks that broadband will be increasingly where that video will be viewed.

The FCC is currently pushing cable operators and consumer electronics manufacturers to create a universal gateway device so TV sets will be able to display that video and help drive adoption of broadband.

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