FCC’s Genachowski Backs Comcast-NBCU With Conditions

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski is recommending that Comcast’s proposed deal to acquire 51 percent of NBC Universal be approved, with conditions.

Now that Genachowski pushed through the commission’s first Internet regulations, he’s wasting no time circulating the order Thursday on the joint venture to the other commissioners, who may make changes or suggestions. Three votes are required on the final order, which could come on or before the commission’s monthly meeting Jan. 25, 2011.
Given the timing at the FCC and the Department of Justice, Comcast and NBCU predicted the deal would not close until sometime in January.

On balance, the FCC’s draft order concludes that the Comcast-NBCU joint venture, meets the FCC’s public interest standard, with conditions. In a press briefing Thursday (Dec. 23) morning, senior FCC officials spoke broadly about the public interest alarm bells raised by a transaction when a distributor (Comcast) gains access to popular content (NBCU). The order addresses several issues of concern to the public interest, including program access and carriage, online issues, broadcast diversity and localism, and competition.

Ahead of the review, Comcast anticipated many of the FCC’s concerns and made commitments to diversity, broadcast localism and local news, children’s programming, and program access and carriage.

FCC officials declined to provide details about the conditions, how many there would be, or how long the conditions would be imposed. It is expected that the FCC will require Comcast to make available NBC and other programming to other online video services that have deals with NBC competitors. Comcast will also be required to group channels by genre to avoid discriminating against channels that compete with Comcast/NBCU. The combined company must also not interfere with Internet traffic from competing Internet services.