Critics Assail Comcast-NBCU Merger Plans


The war of words between Comcast and its critics flared up once more as final responses during the Federal Communications Commission's comment period for the largest U.S. cable firm's planned acquisition of NBC Universal were due yesterday.

Critics highlighted potential dangers of what would be the biggest media combination in recent memory. Comcast once again argued the deal is pro-consumer, in the public interest and doesn't raise competition concerns.

"In many cases, the claimed harms are nothing more than preexisting or industry-wide grievances that commenters are improperly re-airing in this proceeding," the cable giant said about naysayers. "Many businesses and organizations who compete with or aim to extract unwarranted concessions from Comcast or NBCU are attempting to use the commission's review process to foist unprecedented and onerous burdens on the combined entity."

But satellite TV giant DirecTV said Comcast hadn't addressed concerns that it could migrate NBCU programming to the Internet, on-demand or mobile platforms and "then deny it to competitors or restrict access for consumers." DirecTV is calling for regulatory remedies that it said "call for fair access to the same content at the same quality, the same speed, and the same time as Comcast makes available to itself."

The American Cable Association, which represents small cable firms, also called for conditions on the deal.

Meanwhile, Corie Wright, policy counsel of media reform nonprofit Free Press, said that Comcast has "failed to demonstrate that the benefits of the merger will outweigh its considerable harms."

"This merger will reduce competition, raise prices and harm the public," added Mark Cooper, research director of the Consumer Federation of America.

The two groups and the Media Access Project urged regulators to block the deal. They argued that, as of Wednesday, 94 percent of 33,049 filings in the merger case had been filed by free press activists.

On a company blog, Comcast evp David Cohen countered: "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 said the company is looking forward to the "completion of an expeditious review and approval before the end of the year" -- a time line Comcast has adhered to.

And he cited figures of his own to support his optimism that the deal will pass regulatory muster.

"More than three-quarters of the video customers in the U.S. don't use Comcast, more than 80 percent of broadband users aren't Comcast customers, and only one out of seven channels on a typical Comcast cable system will be affiliated in any way with Comcast-NBCU after the closing of the joint venture," he said.

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