Attorneys general urged to block merger

Coalition moves against Comcast, NBC Universal deal

A coalition of public interest groups and private orgs with serious objections to the Comcast and NBC Universal joint venture is urging state attorneys general to weigh in on the transaction, arguing that it raises “looming threats” to local media markets.

The Coalition for Competition in Media was launched in June by 21 different orgs, including Bloomberg, Common Cause, the Writers Guild of America, the Parents Television Council, the National Organization for Women and the National Coalition of African American Owned Media. All have opposed the union of Comcast and NBC U or are calling for major conditions for approval.

In a letter to the National Assn. of Attorneys General, the coalition said that the joint venture was a “broad horizontal and vertical integration” that will “give Comcast unprecedented means and incentive to engage in anticompetitive behaviors that would be fundamentally harmful to consumers, competitors and workers.”

They raised concerns over the transaction’s impact on access to local sports programming, as well as the ability of competitors to gain a foothold in local ad markets.

Their letter was first sent to Jon Bruning, attorney general of Nebraska, but revised later on Wednesday when they learned that he had been succeeded as the association’s president on June 17 by Roy Cooper, attorney general of North Carolina.

Neither Bruning or Cooper responded for comment.

The coalition also issued letters of praise to five attorney generals that they said have already “scrutinized the broad implications and potential harms of this merger.” They are Jerry Brown in California, Andrew Cuomo (New York), John Kroger (Oregon), Bill McCollum (Florida) and Rob McKenna (Washington).

The attorneys general have generally been mum about specific concerns as the Justice Dept. examines the deal. But Bloomberg News reported in April that the five attorneys general had joined in phone interviews led by the DOJ about the transaction.

A spokeswoman for McCollum told Daily Variety that they “are still reviewing the impact” of the proposed joint venture in the state but did not elaborate.

The coalition’s letter comes amid expectations that the joint venture will get the greenlight from the DOJ as well as the FCC, although it’s unclear what conditions will be placed on the transaction.

Comcast issued a statement in response: “We’re proud of the over 1,000 elected officials and diverse organizations across the country that have expressed support for this transaction. We are confident reviews will find this deal to be pro-competitive and in the public interest.”

Comcast says 90 members of the House and the Senate have written letters of support for the joint venture, including a group of 11 African-American and Hispanic lawmakers who sent a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski praising the companies for their commitments to boost diversity efforts. According to Politico, 11 lawmakers are opposed to the merger or are on the fence, while 60 others have questioned its impact on diversity.

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