Feds Bless Comcast-NBC Universal Union as Opponents Continue to Object

Commission Spells out Concessions Cable Giant Must Make

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Federal Communications Commission cleared Comcast to buy NBC Universal today, followed quickly by The Justice Department.

After approving the combination by a 4 to 1 vote, dissenter Michael J. Copps said in a statement that the deal "confers too much power in one company's hands."

"The Comcast-NBCU joint venture opens the door to the cable-ization of the open internet," he said. "The potential for walled gardens, toll booths, content prioritization, access fees to reach end users, and a stake in the heart of independent content production is now very real."

The commission, however, is requiring a number of actions from Comcast meant to prevent the expanded company from big-footing the competition and consumers. Those conditions, which the commission said would generally remain in effect for seven years, include access to Comcast-NBCU programming for other distributors and access to Comcast distribution systems for other programming. The FCC also required that the new entity "does not exercise corporate control over or unreasonably withhold programming from Hulu."

Comcast will also add at least 10 new independent channels to its distribution system, expanding its Spanish-language and children's programming, and maintain at least the current level of news and information programming on NBC and Telemundo's owned-and-operated stations. In the area of web access, Comcast will make high-speed web access available to 2.5 million low-income households for less than $10 per month.

Comcast has argued all along that the deal is "pro-consumer" because it would help the company give customers what they want more quickly: namely more content on more platforms. Comcast, the country's biggest cable company, struck a deal in December 2009 to buy 51% of NBC Universal, owner of the broadcast channel NBC, a host of cable channels such as USA and Bravo, Universal Pictures and a 32% stake in Hulu.

Opponents have argued that the consolidation of this much power with one media company would make the internet a poorer place. "Today's decision by the FCC represents a failure of the agency to live up to its own public interest mandate, as well as Barack Obama's promise to promote media diversity and prevent excessive media concentration," Free Press President Josh Silver said in a statement. Free Press says its goal is a more democratic and diverse media system.

"This deal will give Comcast unprecedented control over both media content and the physical network that delivers it," Mr. Silver added. "The FCC has opened Pandora's Box, and we can soon expect a whole new swarm of mega-mergers that will have dire consequences for media and the Internet."

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