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The Next Comcast/NBC U Hearing: Fewer Fireworks?

On Thursday comes another congressional field hearing on the proposed joint venture between Comcast and NBC Universal, this time in Chicago, but the atmosphere could be far different from a similar event last month in Los Angeles.

That is when Stanley Washington of the National Coalition of African American Owned Media, among those invited to testify, said that African Americans were no longer “interested in living on the Comcast plantation.” Added to that was the presence of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a critic of NBC’s progress on diversity.

This time around, Washington has not been invited, and Waters is not on the subcommittee holding the hearing, Communications, Technology & the Internet. It will be chaired by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.). Public interest groups opposed to the merger have been quick to point out that Rush has been an opponent of net neutrality, which he once called a “solution in search of a problem,” in line with Comcast’s position.

On the bill to testify are Samuel DeSimone, general counsel of EarthLink Inc.; Shirley Franklin, executive senior adviser for Alliance for Digital Equality, a group that has opposed FCC chairman Julius Genachowski’s latest efforts to impose net neutrality rules; Will Griffin, president and CEO of Hip Hop on Demand, who spoke in favor of the joint venture at last month’s hearing; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Paula Madison, exec VP and chief diversity officer of NBC Universal; and Joseph W. Waz, senior VP of external affairs and public policy counsel of Comcast, who posted a blog about their plans for the hearing.

Recently Comcast reached agreement with some Hispanic groups by committing to a number of diversity goals including the appointment of a Latino to its board of directors within 24 months of the deal closing.

Comcast also is sounding alarms over the National Coalition of African American Owned Media. Last week, Congress Daily looked into allegationsthat the org is really an astroturf org with connections to potential rivals. It is represented by the Washington law firm of Patton Boggs, which also represents Bloomberg LP, which is opposed to the merger and is a competitor to CNBC, as well as a firm repping rural telecom providers. One of Patton Boggs’ attorneys, former FCC chairman Kevin Martin, is on the board of the coalition, something that a Comcast rep tells Congress Daily is “ironic.” Patton Boggs and Washington insist their orgs are independent of Patton Boggs’ other clients.

The FCC — which along with the Department of Justice must give the joint venture the green light — will conduct its own field hearing next week in Chicago.

Update: Waters is not on the subcommittee, but was invited to attend.

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