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More trips to Capitol Hill for Comcast and NBC Universal

February 5, 2010 | 11:15 am

ROBERTSZUCKER

Comcast and NBC Universal executives may be through arguing about their merger with former "Saturday Night Live" performer Sen. Al Franken, but the two companies will be making return trips to Capitol Hill to again sell their deal in the weeks ahead.

On Thursday, Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts and NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker had a long day in front of both the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet and the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights.

Besides being grilled on whether a marriage of the nation's biggest cable and broadband provider with a content giant would be bad for consumers and competition, Franken (D-Minn.) made the process personal, accusing NBC of lying in the past about how it does business.

"You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t trust these promises, and that is from experience in this business," Franken said in his opening remarks during the Senate subcommittee hearing.

Roberts and Zucker will have a few weeks off before the next round of hearings about the deal, which would see Comcast take a 51% stake in General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal.

Both the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee are expected to grill Comcast and NBC Universal about the proposed $30-billion deal either later this month or in early March.

The Federal Communications Commission, which along with the Justice Department will decide on whether to approve the deal and what, if any, conditions should be attached, will issue a public notice in a few weeks to the industry and media watchdogs to file comments on the transaction.

Although Congress has no formal role in the approval process, it does have oversight over both the FCC and the DOJ. The issues raised Thursday and likely issues that will come up at future hearings could set a tone for the type of scrutiny the Comcast - NBC Universal sale will receive from the FCC and DOJ. In other words, the point of the hearings is that lawmakers get to send a message to regulators about their concerns.

-- Joe Flint

Related post: Al Franken comes out swining against Comcast-NBC deal.

Photo: Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, left, and NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker are sworn in at a Senate hearing Thursday. Credit: Chris Kleponis / Getty Images

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