Comcast ramps up lobbying ahead of merger hearings
Comcast has launched an all-out charm offensive in Washington ahead of two hearings Thursday on its proposed $30 billion merger with NBC Universal.
The cable and Internet giant has blanketed Capitol Hill offices with e-mails and phone calls to make the point that the megadeal won’t harm consumers or competitors in the paid television, Internet and media markets, congressional staffers said.
Consumer groups are countering that the union of the nation’s biggest cable and Internet service provider and the legendary media powerhouse could allow the combined company to charge more for access to its library of television shows and movies and withhold content from competitors, including new online video providers like Roku or Hulu.
Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts and NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker, along with consumer advocates, are among the witnesses scheduled to testify at Thursday’s hearings before a House Commerce subcommittee and a Senate Judiciary subcommittee.
One House Commerce Committee staffer described the lobbying as “the most aggressive merger outreach I’ve seen in many years,” saying Comcast representatives have come at least one dozen times to a member’s office to talk down concerns about how the merger would affect the future of online video. That member’s office has also received phone calls from local leaders in their district asking that the member to “essentially be nice” during the hearing, said the staffer, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter and would only discuss the lobbying on condition of anonymity.
Comcast, which serves 24 million homes, has strong ties in local governments and a history of negotiating with municipalities for cable franchise agreements. Those relationships trickle up to Congress, where local leaders can influence their representatives, the staffer said.
Indeed, Comcast’s lobbying frenzy illustrates its rapid rise as a Washington player. The company has one of the biggest federal lobbying budgets in the telecommunications industry; last year, it spent about $10 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — roughly five times what it spent at the time of its 2002 merger with AT&T’s broadband Internet business.
Comcast has also donated money to political campaigns of key lawmakers and tapped former Hill and Federal Communication Commission staffers to join its lobbying shops. Among those hired are Rudy Brioche, a staffer of former Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein who was assigned to work on communications policy; and Peter Filon, previously an aide to former House Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) who joined the firm to lobby Congress.
“As the biggest cable company, we’ve been expected to take the lead on a lot of our cable industry issues,” said David Cohen, executive vice president of external and governmental affairs at Comcast.
February 3, 2010; 8:30 PM ET
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