NBCU-Comcast on the Hill: Round Four

For the first time, congressional leaders Thursday (March 11) heard from the two government agencies that will review Comcast’s $30 billion bid to acquire 51 percent of NBC Universal.

Although Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and Christine Varney, assistant attorney general for antitrust for the Department of Justice, were prohibited from commenting on the merits of the pending transaction, both promised members of the Senate Commerce Committee they would work together for an efficient review.

Most industry watchers expect the review process to take the better part of a year, if not longer.

The FCC is set to release its public notice on the transaction in the next three days. “We’re committed to doing this as fast and as efficient as possible,” said Genachowski.

While the FCC’s focus will be on how the transaction will serve the public interest, the DOJ will review the deal for its effect on competition. Varney reassured lawmakers that the DOJ had also begun its review and that the size of the deal would not be the determining factor in an antitrust review.

Along with discussions of the review process at the FCC and DOJ, congressional members took the opportunity to ask about the FCC’s role in finding a solution to retransmission standoffs between broadcasters and cable systems.

“Retransmission consent has been a topic at the FCC since New Year’s,” said Genachowski. “We’ve increasingly heard more arguments that the framework that has been in place for a long time may have lost pace with the marketplace. We’re beginning the process of reviewing the framework. What concerns me is when consumers are surprised,” he said.

Also testifying Thursday were: Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast; John Wells, president of the Writers Guild of America, West; Dr. Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation of America; Colleen Abdoulah, president and CEO of WOW! Internet, Cable, and Phone; and Christopher Yoo, professor of law and communication, University of Pennsylvania.

The three-hour hearing was the fourth hearing held on the Comcast-NBC Universal transaction.

Related: Comcast-NBCU Hearings in Full Swing