Saturday, December 5, 2009

Democrats Take Dim View Of Comcast/NBC

Two Democratic members of the House of Representatives and a Democratic FCC Commissioner with a history of anti-consolidation activism have weighed in on Comcast’s plans to acquire a controlling stake in NBCU.

The nicest assessment of the deal was that it is questionable; another called it devastating.

Ed Markey (D-MA), who has long had a leadership role in communications matters on the Hill, was the one who finds the deal questionable. He said, “This proposed deal raises significant questions about consumer choice and competition, innovation and investment in the media marketplace that merit close scrutiny by Congress, the FCC and the Justice Department. While the companies have determined that this merger advances their business interests, it is essential that the public interest is served. As the author of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act to ensure network neutrality along with Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, I want to ensure that the combination of a major network operator and a large content owner does not open the door to discrimination on the Internet to the detriment of users. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Administration on this important matter as the process moves forward.”

Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who has taken a leadership role in pushing back against media consolidation, had a much more negative reaction -- in fact, it was completely negative.

He said, “Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal would have a devastating impact on the already decreasing ability of the American people to receive unfiltered access to news, information, and entertainment programming from a wide array of sources."

"Given that we've already seen Comcast try to censor the Internet when it sought to undermine network neutrality several years ago, the American people should have no faith that Comcast would allow them to have access to a wide array of television programming…A diverse media system is critical to a properly functioning democracy. Further consolidation would shortchange the wide array of ideas and content needed to keep the American people informed about their elected officials. This acquisition must be stopped.”

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, a longtime foe of consolidation, will have an opportunity to review the transaction. He said, “Some may have thought the era of media consolidation—fewer huge companies controlling more of the nation’s media assets—was behind us. This transaction proves those analysts wrong. The push to combine content and distribution continues and, as the economy recovers, we will see more proposed media industry combinations.”

Copps continued, “While I look at each proposed transaction on its individual merits, my long-tanding skepticism about the harms imposed by so few controlling so much persists.

And this particular transaction raises a multitude of important questions:

What is its impact on the prices consumers will pay?

Would the combination mean more newsrooms (but perhaps fewer reporters) controlled by one entity?

How would the transaction affect minorities and diversity on the airwaves?

Would this merger lead to fewer voices on both traditional and new media?

Does the nature of the transaction make even more urgent the need for FCC network neutrality rules?

What about the future of competition in the several markets these companies serve?

The list of questions and consequences goes on. Clearly this proposal requires close and comprehensive Commission review.

The lodestar for this review must be the public interest.”He concluded, “I look forward to broad stakeholder reaction to today’s announcement—and, indeed, every citizen has a stake here. I am anxious to hear more from the parties to the deal about how they believe the proposed transaction, as presently constructed, advances the public interest. It will come as no news to them that they face a very steep climb with me.”


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