Two Congressmen Push for Conditions on Comcast-NBC Universal Deal

Letters to the FCC cite online video among areas of concern.

NEW YORK -- Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Commerce Committee, had good news and bad news for cable giant Comcast on Tuesday.

In a letter, the Democrat urged FCC chairman Julius Genachowski to finish his agency's review of the proposed Comcast-NBC Universal deal by year's year. But he also urged the FCC to put conditions on the combined company in case of approval -- in no fewer than four areas.

Committee member Ed Markey, also a Democrat, sent a separate letter that also pushed for conditions.

“We thank chairman Waxman for joining other Congressional leaders in calling on the regulatory agencies to conclude their review of our transaction before year end," Comcast said in a statement, arguing once again that the combination will bring benefits for consumers and others. "We continue to work with the regulatory agencies on the issues identified by chairman Waxman.”

The Congressman in his letter to Genachowski said: "I hope that you will be able to conclude your review expeditiously, ideally by the end of the year, if possible."

But he continued: "After careful consideration, I have concluded that if the merger is approved, it could trigger significant changes in the way consumers access video programming, in the way independent programmers distribute their works, and in the way all video distributors compete for customers." 

He suggested conditions in four areas:

1. Program access: The FCC should "impose requirements to ensure that competing program distributors have access to programming or channels in which Comcast-NBCU has a financial interest," Waxman wrote.

2. Online video and open Internet: "Video programming and Internet distribution will be inextricably intertwined to an unprecedented degree," Waxman said.

To avoid harm, he suggested conditions that prevent the merged firm from blocking online distribution of programming that competes with it, ensure that Comcast-NBCU "does not prioritize or guarantee a higher quality-of-service for its own video-on-demand and other online offerings over competitive video services that are delivered over  Comcast’s broadband network," and protect third-party programmers’ ability to make their content available online via competing web sites.
3. Unaffiliated cable programmers: The Congressman suggested that competing programmers in the areas of news, sports and entertainment should be protected against "discrimination in channel placement and tiering."

4. Independent programmers: Waxman called for conditions that will "prevent the proposed combination of Comcast and NBCU from transforming the media landscape in a way that raises costs, degrades service, and reduces consumer choice."

Markey also cited online concerns and said the combined company could use its power to undermine competition and block potential cable cord cutting by consumers.

"With consumers increasingly utilizing their broadband connections to access video content online, control of both the content and the conduit through which it is delivered would provide Comcast the ability to make "cutting the cord" less financially attractive to consumers, undermining competition and choice," he wrote.