Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Comcast Concessions Smooth Way For NBC Universal Deal

By David Lieberman, USA TODAY

NEW YORK — Supporters and opponents of Comcast's bid to control NBC Universal each had something to crow about Monday before the midnight deadline for advocates to formally register their views at the Federal Communications Commission.

After weeks of negotiations, Comcast CMCSA made three concessions to independently owned NBC affiliates in order to get their support at the FCC, which has the power to veto Comcast's plans.

Comcast told the group that it would continue to broadcast major sports events including NFL Football and the Olympics on local stations, says Brian Lawlor, chairman of the NBC Affiliate Board and an executive at E.W. Scripps, a TV station owner.

In addition, he says, Comcast said it would continue to offer NBC shows through local stations instead of directly to consumers via cable.

The cable giant also said it would not retaliate against NBC stations that ask Comcast to pay a fee for the right to retransmit over-the-air TV signals. Although station owners "clearly have concerns," the concessions "allow us to be comfortable," Lawlor says.

But several opponents say those concessions don't go far enough.

Bloomberg — which is challenging CNBC's dominant position in TV business news — joined a coalition of opponents, which include Consumers Union and the Communications Workers of America.

Comcast and NBC Universal would "exert a degree of market power unrivaled in our nation's media history," the group said in a letter. That power would lead to higher cable and Internet prices for consumers as well as less diversity of opinions over the media, the coalition says.

Open Internet advocacy group Public Knowledge separately asked the FCC to require Comcast's Internet business to agree to treat all websites equally for transmission purposes, a policy known as network neutrality.

Satellite companies also said they're concerned about Comcast's deal.

DirecTV said, in a filing, that if Comcast moves popular shows to the Internet, it "could deny (them) to competitors." Federal rules require cable companies that own networks to make them available to competitors including satellite distributors. Dish Network raised similar concerns.

Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen took the proceedings in stride, saying in a blog post that the company is "ready, willing, and able to address legitimate concerns."

The company, he adds, will respond to the latest comments in July.

You might also be interested in:
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Cable and satellite TV broadcasting dispute may cost you (USATODAY.com in Technology Live)
Does cable have grip on speedy Internet? (USATODAY.com in Money)

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