Reps. Waxman, Markey urge strict conditions on Comcast-NBCU merger
Key Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday urged the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission to impose tough conditions on Comcast's proposed merger with NBC Universal to ensure competition in television and broadband markets and protections for consumers.
Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, and committee member Ed Markey (D-Mass) sent separate letters to FCC Chairman with specific guidance on conditions they believe Comcast and NBC should agree to in return for regulatory approval of their union.
"After careful consideration, I have concluded that if the merger is approved, it could trigger significant changes in the way consumers access video programming, in the way independent programmers distribute their works, and in the way all video distributors compete for customers," wrote Waxman, who also called for the FCC to complete the merger by the end of the year.
Comcast vice president of communications, Sena Fitzmaurice, said in a statement it was "working with regulatory agencies on the issues identified." She agreed with Waxman's call to quickly finish the FCC's regulatory review.
Waxman said the FCC should impose program access conditions to the merger that prevent Comcast from withholding NBC and other content owned by the company from competing cable, satellite, and telecom firms. Markey called for required arbitration if disputes arise over Comcast-NBCU's distribution of its content to competitors.
On Internet video competition, Waxman said the FCC should restrict Comcast-NBCU from slowing or blocking shows from online competitors such as Netflix and Boxee. The merged company should be banned from better quality of service for its own video-on-demand and other online offerings over Comcast's network. He said the agency should ensure third-party programmers are able to delivery content to competing Internet Web sites.
For independent programmers, such as Bloomberg and Allbritton's News Channel 8, Markey said the FCC should ensure Comcast-NBCU carries competing news programs on the same tiers as its own channels such as CNBC and MSNBC. Bloomberg and Allbritton have lobbied for such conditions.
Markey also urged Genachowski to impose wholesale broadband access conditions to the merger in the way the FCC did for AOL's merger with Time Warner in 2000. Those conditions would allow competing Internet service providers such as Earthlink to offer access services. Markey said by unbundling access, the FCC would prevent Comcast from raising stand-alone broadband prices. Earthlink has argued that Comcast has the incentive to raise stand-alone broadband prices so that consumers stay in bundled plans for cable television, phone and broadband.
"With consumers increasingly utilizing their broadband connections to access video content online, control of both the content and the conduit through which it is delivered would provide Comcast the ability to make 'cutting the cord' less financially attractive to consumers, undermining competition and choice," Markey wrote.
| December 7, 2010; 6:23 PM ET
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