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Comcast-NBCU merger opponents make one last push at FCC

By Ed Oswald, Betanews

The final comment period before the Federal Communications Commission makes its ruling on whether or not to approve the Comcast-NBC Universal merger ended on Thursday, and opponents made one last effort to stop it in its tracks.

Comcast fought off those complaints, calling them “nothing more than preexisting or industry-wide grievances” that should not be part of the decision to approve the merger. It also accused some of those attempting to put additional conditions on the deal were attempting “to foist unprecedented and onerous burdens on the combined entity.”

That certainly is not the opinion of some of its closest competitors. In its own filing, satellite provider DirecTV expressed concern that Comcast could intentionally make it more difficult for its rivals to get NBCU programming, whether that be by raising carriage rates or moving programming online and then restricting access from there.

The nation’s largest cable provider has already stuck its finger in DirecTV’s eye once before: Comcast has refused to sell either it or Dish Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, which is the single largest carrier of Phillies, Sixers, and Flyers games in the region. Comcast either owns or has a significant stake in all three teams.

While larger cable firms such as Time Warner filed in support of the deal, an organization representing smaller cable providers — the American Cable Association — asked for conditions similar to what DirecTV asked for.

“Comcast-NBCU will have unmatched leverage in traditional and online media markets to harm competitive cable and satellite operators by driving up their programming costs to very troublesome levels,” ACA President and CEO Matthew Polka said in a statement.

Others are going for an outright rejection of the merger, such as media interest group Free Press. It along with three other groups filed comments in opposition, and pointed out that 94 percent of the comments filed so far with the FCC have been in opposition.

“Comcast has failed to demonstrate that the benefits of the merger will outweigh its considerable harms,” Free Press policy counsel Corie Wright said. “In its current form, the proposed merger suffers from a sizable public interest deficit.”

Comcast executive vice president David Cohen responded to critics by saying these groups were blowing things out of proportion, and that comparatively to other major media deals, the Comcast-NBCU merger was relatively small.

“Not surprisingly, a few perennial critics of entertainment and communications companies have made apocalyptic predictions, just like they’ve made for years and years,” he wrote on the company’s blog. “The credibility of their arguments is thoroughly undercut by today’s dynamic competitive media marketplace.”

Copyright Betanews, Inc. 2010

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