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FCC's Copps, worried about consolidation, to weigh Comcast-NBC Universal merger

Michael Copps, a Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission, made comments in a speech to the Practicing Law Institute today that gives a glimpse into this thinking about the planned merger between Comcast and NBC Universal.

Copps, the most senior commissioner of the five-member agency, has been a stalwart of media ownership rules that would prevent consolidating of television and newspapers in the same town -- a policy intended to preserve the diversity of voices in media and commitment to local journalism.

He's the only FCC commissioner who came out after the Comcast-NBCU deal was announced last week to voice concerns about the deal. Among questions he raised was whether the deal reinforced the need for the controversial net neutrality rules being crafted at the agency. The nation's biggest cable and Internet service provider is going to merge with one of the nation's biggest creators of television shows, cable programs and movies. Public interest groups say Comcast's control over so much content could lead the company to prioritize its own content over that of competitors.

In his speech today, Copps said he worried that the deal would lead to more consolidation of the media. In the end, he will examine the merger, which go before the FCC for review, for how it could benefit or not benefit the public.

An excerpt from his speech comes after the jump.

The Internet has opened new opportunities, to be sure, but what we’ve gained there hasn’t yet begun to match what we have already lost due to the bad choices that have been made regarding traditional media. I’m talking about bad choices by the private sector through the heedless consolidation, bizarre and reckless business plans of the past decade that saddled companies with debt that became unmanageable when the economy went south and that sacrificed localism and diversity to uniformity and program homogenization. And I’m talking about bad choices by government, particularly the commission, through a massive frontal assault on the public interest protections that undergirded the country’s media landscape for decades. Together, I believe these private and public decisions exacted a costly toll on consumers, on all our citizens and, in the end, even on the companies themselves. All the consolidation and ideological deregulation over the past two decades -- rather than reviving the news business -- have condemned us to less real news, less serious political coverage, less diversity of opinion, less minority and female ownership, less investigative journalism and fewer jobs for journalists. This, my friends, is the legacy of most of the past 30 years.

The push to combine content and distribution continues, as we saw last week in the proposed Comcast-NBC Universal deal, and as the economy begins to turn around, I believe we’ll see still more of it. Despite the predictions of some, it is clear that the era of media consolidation is far from over. For eight years I have seen how one merger keeps leading to another and another and another. It hasn’t really changed. This particular transaction has all sorts of far-reaching implications for media both old and new. The commission will look at the Comcast combination in all its many dimensions, but in the end it will come down to one question: How would approval advance the public interest?

I hold the lodestar of the public interest sacred in what we do at the commission. And let me say right here that many broadcasters and publishers still have the flame of the public interest burning in their breasts -- I know, I meet them all the time -- but the unforgiving expectations of the Wall Street marketers and the need to keep them happy every quarter have made life more and more difficult for them and pulled them in directions I don’t think most of them ever really wanted to go.

By Cecilia Kang  |  December 10, 2009; 3:40 PM ET
Categories:  FCC  
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