Rockefeller: Comcast/NBCU Deal Should Not Mean Cable Rate Boost

Senate Commerce Committee chairman expresses concern that merger could raise cable rates
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Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller
(D-W. Va.) wrote FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski Friday to express his
concerns about the Comcast/NBCU merger, particularly what he said was its
potential to raise cable rates. The FCC is widely believed to be wrapping up
vetting of the deal and is expected to OK it with a number of conditions, both
ones Comcast has agreed to and others the FCC will likely impose on program
access, including online.

"Fundamentally, I worry that a media merger
of this size has the potential to leave consumers with lesser programming and
higher rates," Rockefeller wrote, according to a copy of the letter
supplied to B&C. "It would
be unacceptable for a transaction like this to lead to further consumer cable
rate increases."

Rockefeller suggested the FCC should impose some
open Internet conditions. "With this level of integration comes the capacity
of combined Comcast and NBC to favor its own content by degrading or
blocking online distribution of programming by competitors. As
a result, the commission should carefully review the potential for these harms
and, consistent with policies promoting an open Internet, protect consumer
choice in the burgeoning online video market."

But Rockefeller also had some nice things to say
about both companies. "I was pleased to see that Comcast and NBC have
committed to preserve and enrich the production of local news, public affairs,
and other public interest programming." He also said he was
pleased that the companies had committed to more children's programming.

"With respect to rates," he said,
"I worry that the cost of cable service is growing too high too
fast." He also cited his long-standing desire for cable
operators to offer channels in smaller packages "that better reflect the channels
consumers want to watch."

It is unclear whether the FCC will finish its review before year's end.
At press time on Friday, commissioners had not seen a draft of any decision.

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