Rep. Waxman tells FCC and Justice Dept. what condtions he wants on Comcast - NBC deal
Rep. Heny Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, has told the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department what conditions he'd like to see on Comcast's proposed merger with NBC Universal.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski that was copied to Christine Varney, the assistant attorney general who oversees the Justice Department's antitrust division, Waxman said conditions are needed because if the deal 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."
Comcast, which is the nation's largest cable and broadband provider, struck a $30-billion deal with General Electric Co. last December to acquire a controlling stake in its NBC Universal unit. The combination of a distribution giant with NBC Universal, which owns a movie studio, broadcast network and several powerful cable channels, has many media watchdogs and competitors concerned about the potential for an abuse of power by Comcast.
Waxman, whose committee has oversight over the FCC, said the regulatory agency should "impose requirements to ensure that competing program distributors have access to programming or channels in which Comcast-NBCU has a financial interest."
With regards to the Internet, which has become a flash point in the debate over the deal, Waxman said the FCC should put conditions on the deal to insure that Comcast can't degrade or block distribution of programming online that it competes with and guarantees that the company won't give better service to its own offerings over a rival service.
Waxman also throws a bone to Bloomberg LP in his letter. Bloomberg, which owns a cable channel that competes in the business news category with NBC Universal's CNBC, has urged regulators to require Comcast systems that carry Bloomberg to give it a channel near CNBC. Waxman told the FCC that Comcast "should not be permitted to isolate competitive offerings to these channels by placing them outside of the 'neighborhood' for such content."
Comcast issued a statement that did not react to any of Waxman's suggested conditions. Instead, the company said its deal with NBC will bring "significant benefits for consumers, independent programmers, and diversity groups, and the sooner approvals are concluded, the sooner these benefits will be seen in the marketplace."
Waxman will be giving up his chairmanship of the House Energy Commerce Committee when the Republicans assume control of the House in January. Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan will assume leadership of the committee.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Rep. Waxman. Credit: Brendan Hoffman/Bloomberg.