WTF: FCC Catches Hell on Merger

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Where never is heard an encouraging
word, and the skies are cloudy all
day: That could be the theme to the
first wave of public comment on the proposed
$30 billion Comcast/NBCU joint venture.

Only fully open for business for a few
days since its March 18 start, the FCC’s public
docket on the merger—the government
version of open-mike night—had already
drawn almost 150 comments, mostly of the
one-graph, “don’t let big companies
merge” variety.

A sampling of the vox populi-or at least the vox motivated enough to
file a comment—indicates the FCC didn’t appear
to have trouble with the s-word, at least
online, and also when it came to logging comments
(see above). A “WTF” comment took
aim at cable rates—as has FCC Chairman
Julius Genachowski—and read, in part: “The
problem that I have is that cable and satellite
TV companies are raising their rates EVERY
YEAR!!! Something needs to be done!”

For more docket fodder, read on:
 “Another mega-corporation only serves to
dwindle customer choice and strangle innovation.
Don’t allow consumers to suffer more
in the name of the all-mighty [sic] dollar.”

“I fail to see the benefit of the proposed
Comcast/NBC merger. It is liken [sic] to
Coors/Molson also distributing their own
alcoholic products.”

“How about breaking up these immoral
and war-mongering media conglomerates
instead of rewarding them?”

“I am 100% certain that both the cost of Internet
access and television programming will
rise sharply in certain markets, like mine.”
“At no point should ANY cable or satellite
provider be allowed to
merge/own controlling stake
in a large primary television
network.”
“Only fools would allow this merger.”
“No Chance NO WAY.”

There were 143 comments at presstime.
For more choice comments—and details on
how you can search the FCC docket.

Cross-Ownership Rules at Play

Last week, the Third Circuit Court of
Appeals lifted its stay on the FCC’s
loosening of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules. But don’t look for a
land rush of broadcasters buying newspapers,
say communications attorneys.

“I would be surprised,” says Jack Goodman,
counsel at WilmerHale in Washington,
“because it is limited to one broadcast station
and one newspaper in a market.

Lifting the stay means that station owners
with only one property in a market could
buy a newspaper, subject to FCC approval,
with a presumption the combination was in
the public interest. One benefi ciary could
be Tribune, which has a single station—
KTLA—and the Los Angeles Times. It holds
both under a waiver of the now old crossownership
ban, but that is time-limited. It
could apply to remove that time limit. “For
people in top 20 markets with waivers, it
gives them a little more comfort,” Goodman
says. “If they can get a permanent waiver,
the pressure is off.”

According to Goodman, the real upside
for broadcasters is that the court is taking a
second look at the commission’s approach
to ownership. “They didn’t even count cable,
much less broadband,” he says. “They are a
technological generation back.” Of course, it
will be the same panel of judges that stayed
the last two changes.

Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell,
whose more deregulatory rule changes in
2003 prompted the fi rst Third Circuit stay
and led to his successor Kevin Martin’s decision
to only loosen the cross-ownership rule,
is hoping the court’s review of arguments
leads it to a new conclusion.

“This is a new day,” Powell, now a senior
advisor with Providence Equity Partners, told
B&C. “That court was originally dismissive
about the Internet [in terms of a competing
voice in the market], which to me was their
big error. To say that this is not a substitute,
or people don’t get their news from it, gets
harder as the years go by.”

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