Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Senator Bernie Sanders Asks FCC To Block Comcast/NBCU Merger

By John Eggerton
Broadcasting & Cable

Senator Sanders says even with conditions, deal is not in the public interest.

Comcast/NBCU deal critic Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote the FCC commissioners Tuesday telling them they should nix the proposed deal and that it would not be in the public interest "no matter how many conditions were attached."

Essentially his opposition boiled down to allowing another big media company to get bigger, particularly given evolving distribution models that the new company could exert control over. "The sale of NBCU to Comcast would create an enormously powerful, vertically integrated media conglomerate, causing irreparable damage to the American media landscape... We do not need another conglomerate with control over the production and distribution of sports news and entertainment."

Sanders cited the American Cable Association's study from former FCC economist William Rogerson that the deal could cost consumers an additional $2.4 billion--Comcast has called the study flawed and said in a response at the FCC Monday that it was misleading and should be given "no weight."

Sanders took that figure and ran with it, saying that he thought it would be an obvious conclusion that the public interest would not be serviced by "a regressive wealth transfer of $2.4 billion from ordinary citizens to what would be one of the largest corporate entities in the United States."

Sanders said that if the deal were approved, Comcast would have the incentive to favor NBCU over other content companies in its carriage negotiations. Comcast has pointed out that there are program access rules that prevent favoring co-owned cable content.

Comcast has also agreed to apply those rules to its retransmission consent negotiations for NBC and co-owned Telemundo stations.

"The overwhelming record in support of the Comcast NBCU transaction show the significant public interest benefits that it will deliver, including more independent programming choices, more opportunities for ownership diversity, more local public affairs programming, more viewing options for families and children, and accelerating the ‘anytime, anywhere' video future consumers want," said Sena Fitzmaurice, VP of government communications at Comcast, in response to the Sanders letter. "The FCC has heard support from over 400 elected officials from coast to coast, along with countless community organizations and groups representing diverse communities.

Various analyses provided by Dr. Rogerson on behalf of ACA, the interest group cited by Sen. Sanders, and a handful of other opponents of the transaction have been thoroughly rebutted. With regard to transition and integration planning, this is common, proper, and expected in a transaction of this type. At every step of the way, this process has been supervised by counsel to ensure faithful adherence to the rules, and that will continue."

Sanders' letter comes as the FCC and Justice are widely believed to be wrapping up their reviews of the deal. The FCC's informal shot clock for reviewing the merger runs out next week.

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