NBCU-Comcast: Deal in Hand?

Is regulatory approval for Comcast’s joint venture with NBC Universal finally coming to a head? At deadline last week, signs pointed to yes.

Comcast hit the halls of Congress right after the holidays to urge leaders to put the pressure on regulators. And last week Comcast amplified the 16 public interest commitments it made when the deal was announced more than 13 months ago. (Comcast had set a deadline to close the deal by the end of 2010.)

“The company seems willing to agree to just about anything to get the deal done,” said one lobbyist.

Many bet a green light is coming from the FCC and Department of Justice by the end of the month. Attention is focused on the FCC, which could approve the deal on circulation or at the monthly meeting Jan. 25. Chairman Julius Genachowski circulated the draft order Dec. 23 to approve the transaction with conditions.

But Genachowski needs two votes, and there could be a three-way tug-of-war holding up approval. The two Republicans, Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker, likely will approve the deal but may find some conditions too stringent. Democrat Michael “I hate all media consolidation” Copps no doubt wants tougher conditions. Democrat Mignon Clyburn tends to side with Genachowski on most matters.

The FCC has declined to provide specifics on the conditions but confirmed it would address program access and carriage, online issues, broadcast diversity, and competition. One of the conditions may require Comcast to provide NBC programming to competing online video providers. Another may be a requirement to follow strict open Internet rules that forbid Comcast from interfering with subscribers’ Web traffic.

Among the commitments Comcast outlined in a Jan. 10 letter to the FCC were an additional 1,000 hours of local news and information programming over three years to air on NBCU’s Telemundo stations on top of the 1,000 additional hours it had promised for the NBC O&Os.