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Comcast gives itself good marks, but lawmaker concerns pave way for Web access conditions

In a blog post this morning recapping the Hill hearings on Comcast and NBC's proposed merger, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen stressed that bi-partisan members asked for a fast review. And while there were many tough questions, he said "the tone was almost always respectful" (read: Franken?) and overall it "went well" for the companies.

"Brian and Jeff were able to articulate why this transaction is pro-consumer and strongly in the public interest and we feel that we took an important step forward in the review process of this transaction in Washington," Cohen said in the post.

Paul Gallant, a telecom policy analyst at Concept Capital, noted that no lawmakers said outright the deal should be rejected. But several concerns over how the merger would affect the future of video distribution over the Internet could give a roadmap for regulators.

"These concerns may give momentum to the FCC and/or DOJ to pursue regulatory conditions aimed at ensuring that broadcast programming continues to be available on the Internet for free," Gallant said. Other conditions could be a requirement that Comcast does not influence content owners (Viacom, News Corp., Time Warner, Disney) to withhold programming from Internet vendors like Apple, Netflix and Google, Gallant said.

Cohen went on to outline points the company is making as it prepares for regulatory reviews by the Justice Department and FCC. He said the merger won't result in big job losses and that the merged company would face lots of competition as the video market expands to online applications and as telephone and satellite companies become bigger providers of paid television services.

Some lawmakers criticized the company for arguing that program access rules would protect competitors, while it sues in courts to overturn that rule.

"The short answer is that there is no inconsistency in our position," Cohen wrote. "We don’t intend to behave any differently than we have under the rules and we’re willing to accept a condition that we abide by those rules, even if the court declares them invalid."

By Cecilia Kang  |  February 5, 2010; 11:55 AM ET
Categories:  Antitrust , Comcast , DOJ , FCC , Online Video  
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