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Genachowski OKs Comcast-NBC U merger

DoJ expected to approve $30 billion joint venture

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski is recommending approval of Comcast’s combination with NBC Universal with substantive conditions, agency officials said on Thursday.

The $30 billion joint venture must also clear the Department of Justice, which is conducting a separate review, but they are expected to issue a coordinated order approving the transaction.

Speaking at a background briefing to media without direct attribution or discussion of specific details, the FCC officials said Genachowski is circulating a draft order to his colleagues for consideration at a meeting early next year. The draft concludes that on balance, the proposed transaction meets the public interest standard.

The officials said the applicants have pledged to take several steps to meet public interest goals related to broadband adoption and deployment, protection of over-the-air broadcasting, diversity, localism and children’s programming.

The agency also is focused on concerns that consumers be able to access competitors’ content on Comcast and NBC U platforms, including online, as well as on the ability of non-affiliated distributors to access the combined companies’ content. A central concern of critics has been web video, as the transaction will combine one of the nation’s largest content makers with the largest cable distributor.

The officials declined to predict when a final FCC vote could occur, but said it could conceivably be slated for the agency’s Jan. 25 meeting. The draft order could change as it is circulated among commissioners.

Comcast exec VP David L. Cohen, in a blog post, said that they were “gratified that the FCC chairman’s office has circulated an order to the offices of all commissioners that would lead to approval of our transaction.”

He reiterated that the transaction would deliver “real public interest benefits.”

“We believe the draft FCC order as circulated ensures these benefits will be realized and will enable us to operate the NBC Universal and legacy Comcast businesses in an appropriate way,” he said. “We will continue to work with the commissioners so that the FCC order will not undermine our business combination and will ensure that consumers will benefit and that competitors are treated fairly.”

The officials also revealed that the lengthy review process, which included some 30,000 written comments, included close cooperation with the DOJ, which is conducting a separate review. They said the DOJ appears to be comfortable with the FCC’s approach.

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