MAP Sees No Route to Acceptable Comcast-NBCU Merger

Media reform, public interest groups file petition calling the companies' promises on program access empty
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For some groups, no public interest promises from Comcast
and NBC Universal or conditions imposed by the FCC and/or Justice are sufficient
to allow the two companies to join forces.

As promised, Media Access Project (MAP), Free Press,
Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of  America filed their petition late on June 21
to deny the deal at the FCC.

"Even a conditional authorization of Comcast's
acquisition of control of NBCU would present too much harm to the public interest,"
they argue in a 150-plus page filing.

"Comcast is already the nation's largest cable
operator, largest broadband service provider, and one of the leading providers
of regional cable sports and news networks," they write. "Allowing it
to acquire one of the nation's premier video content producers would enable
Comcast to extend its existing market power, especially with respect to
emerging platforms.

"The result would be higher prices, fewer programming and
provider choices, and diminished media diversity. It would inhibit innovation
in budding markets and encourage other similarly situated companies to follow
suit."

Comcast has pledged to adhere to program-access rules
that require distributors to make their owned content available to competitors,
and even apply them to retransmission consent deals that are not currently
under such a regime. But MAP and company are not assuaged, though they see the issue
as a systemic failure in those rules rather than a suggestion Comcast would
somehow not live up to the pledge.

"While the Communications Act theoretically requires
cable operators to  share their programming
with competitors," they said, "in practice it has proven ineffective
in achieving this goal. Thus, Comcast's commitment to adhere to Commission ‘program
access' rules for as long as ‘current' policies remain in effect rings
hollow."

In fact, they are essentially dismissive of Comcast's
public interest commitments in general, which in include adding at least six
independent channels over the next three years and increasing, kids,
minority-targeted programming, and news.

"Many amount to little more than rhetorical flourish
or are unenforceable and/or simply maintain the pre-merger status quo,"
they write. They are also particularly concerned about online video, pointing
out that it is the first major media company merger since the emergence of
broadband video. The FCC's current chairman has made it clear he thinks that
broadband will be increasingly where that video will be viewed.

The FCC is currently pushing cable operators and consumer
electronics manufacturers to create a universal gateway device so TV sets will
be able to display that video and help drive adoption of broadband.

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