ACA Readies Filing on Comcast-NBCU Conditions

Wants FCC approval contingent on fixes to program-access rules, retrans disputes
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The American Cable Association plans to file a laundry list with the FCC of perceived harms from the proposed Comcast-NBC Universal joint venture.

That comes as the FCC deadline for the initial comment period and petitions to deny the deal comes due June 21.

ACA is not petitioning to deny the deal, or even proposing remedies. "We know that it is likely to be approved, albeit with conditions," said ACA President Matthew Polka.

ACA's focus, said Polka, is on pointing out the problems that his members say must be fixed to prevent the combined companies from having too much market power. "We're committed to making the strongest case we can...to convince the FCC and the Department of Justice that conditions are needed to address these areas," said Polka.

Those areas include the combination of programming assets and its affect on pricing to competing distributors like ACA members, including the retrans fees for NBC's 10 O&O stations. Comcast has promised to voluntarily apply program-access rules to retrans deals, but ACA says that is applying an already-broken system.

ACA's problems with the program-access rules is that they do not restrict quantity discounts, which favor bigger players; do not provide for continued carriage during disputes; puts no governor on fees vertically integrated companies can charge competitors; and may not apply to access to online content.

ACA says it is particularly concerned about six markets in which a Comcast-NBCU would own a TV station, control NBC's cable nets and Comcast's regional sports network. Those are Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, Miami, and Hartford, Conn.

Polka would not comment on what combination of divestitures or behavioral modifications would be necessary. "We're certaily advocating for the maximum," he said, "because a lot is riding on the outcome for our members to obtain content fairly and at fair and reasonable prices."

ACA notes that in previous transactions the FCC has made binding arbitration a condition on the deal, including mandatory carriage during that process, but also says that route is not always cost-effective for smaller companies.

ACA represents about 900 small and mid-sized cable/telco companies.

While ACA has complained about program tying and retrans issues related to other companies, it suggests it is not looking to re-build Rome in a day, as it were.

"The issues that we have raised are all merger-specific issues, without seeking to address industry-wide concerns," said ACA's VP of government affairs, Ross Lieberman. "So long as the harms are addressed, ACA would consider it a success."

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