Senator wants probe: Is Comcast jumping gun on merger?

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is asking antitrust officials to investigate whether Comcast has jumped the gun in announcing a restructuring of the NBC Universal management team before the combination of the two companies gets the greenlight from federal regulators.

In a letter sent Monday to Christine Varney, chief of the antitrust division at the Justice Dept., Franken wrote that “by announcing the future leadership of NBC Universal well in advance of federal approval, Comcast may be seeking to indirectly exert managerial and operational control of that company.”

He also said Comcast “may purposefully or inadvertently trigger the exchange of competitively sensitive information between the companies, beyond what is customarily permissible in premerger settings.” He asked that the Justice Department study whether it may be “gun-jumping” in violation of the “letter and spirit of federal antitrust law.”

Franken has been critical of the proposed transaction, arguing that it will further consolidate the industry and limit the opportunities for independent content creators.

The DOJ and the FCC are in the midst of reviewing the transaction, a process expected to be completed by the end of this year. Last week, Comcast’s Steve Burke, the prospective CEO of NBC U, announced a series of management changes, including the appointment of former Showtime entertainment prexy Robert Green-blatt as chairman of NBC Entertainment.

Comcast issued a statement in response to Franken’s letter: “Transition and integration planning is common, proper and expected in a transaction of this type. Post-closing management teams are regularly announced prior to antitrust approval. NBC Universal has remained in total control of all decisionmaking to date. Comcast has had no role in NBC Universal business operations. At every step of the way, this process has been supervised by counsel to ensure faithful adherence to the rules, and that will continue.”

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