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Comcast-NBC hits first hurdle: Washington

Comcast, the nation's biggest cable and broadband Internet company, on Thursday announced plans to take over NBC Universal, creating a new kind of media colossus that would not only produce some of America's most popular entertainment but also control viewers' access to it.

The roughly $30 billion deal set off immediate reaction from consumer groups and lawmakers in Washington, heralding an epic regulatory battle over concentrating so much power in one company. Almost one in four cable subscribers in the U.S. is a Comcast customer. NBC Universal owns cable networks such as Telemundo, MSNBC and Bravo, TV shows such as Jay Leno's, regional stations such as Washington's WRC (Channel 4), and Universal movie studios.

Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the commerce committee, and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), chairman of the judiciary antitrust subcommittee, called for hearings to review the deal's impact on television competition and consumers. Michael J. Copps, a Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission, said that the merger faces a "very steep climb with me" and that it raises many doubts over whether it would be in the public's interest.

Analysts said the deal would face a lengthy regulatory review -- from one year to 18 months -- but would probably be passed with significant conditions. A great part of the debate for federal regulators will be how the merger would impact the future of television programming, which will be viewed online on mobile devices and computers as well as on the box in American living rooms.

Read the whole story here.

Please also check out Steven Pearlstein's column today on the merger.

Given how fast things are changing, and how uncertain the future is, it would be a mistake for the government to step in and stop such a merger on traditional antitrust grounds. Rather, the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission should use the merger review process as an opportunity to craft a set of regulations for this new media world that would apply not only to Comcast-NBC, but to all competitors.

By Cecilia Kang  |  December 4, 2009; 9:53 AM ET
 
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