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FCC Approves Acquisition of NBC Universal by Comcast
January 31, 2011
The FCC approved a $37 billion acquisition of content provider NBC Universal by cable and internet provider Comcast by a four to one vote on January 18, 2011. The approval came with conditions designed to promote competition in the online arena and to ensure that Comcast does not tie internet and cable service to NBC Universal's content to the detriment of consumers. Among the conditions, Comcast-NBCU must provide its programming on other cable networks and bona fide online distributors, and cannot discriminate in distribution of video programming to favor its own content. Comcast-NBCU will also be required to provide more programs for Spanish-language consumers, reduce the price of broadband for schools and libraries, and offer low-cost standalone internet service to low-income households. From an antitrust perspective, the conditions are unique in that they seek to protect competition through restrictions on the joint venture's conduct rather than requiring divestiture. Despite these conditions, critics of the merger including Minnesota Democratic Senator (and former NBC employee) Al Franken accused the FCC of not going far enough, and of opening the door to discrimination over the internet by approving the merger. Franken warned that Comcast-NBCU would try to eliminate or weaken competitors such as Netflix that offer content over the internet. Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, have criticized the deal for going too far. Representatives Fred Upton (MI), Greg Walden (OR), and Lee Terry (NE) warned that the FCC was imperiling the free market with "investment-harming net neutrality provisions" and regulations as part of a "Chicago-style shakedown" of the acquiring company.
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