Copps is lone dissenter on FCC panel

In casting the dissenting vote in the FCC’s 4-1 approval of the Comcast-NBC Universal merger, commissioner Michael Copps chided his colleagues for a decision that “erodes diversity, localism and competition.”

The Writers Guild of America East voiced its opposition to the union, which will see Comcast acquire 51% of NBC U from GE, “because it brings together one of the largest Internet service and cable TV providers with one of the largest content providers.”

The conditions that the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Dept. put on the merger “simply make the venture a little less disastrous,” the WGAE added. “Time will tell if writers and other creators will be squeezed out of the Internet, and if a small handful of powerful entities continue to control what people watch.”

The Media Access Project watchdog org was also quick to condemn the federal approval of the $30 billion merger.

“Perhaps the worst thing about today’s announcement is that it sends a message to other phone and cable companies that they, too, can buy up content providers,” the org said in a statement.

Copps and other detractors of the merger cite the trend of consolidation in media and showbiz that has been under way since the mid-1990s. The merger of Comcast and NBC U is troubling because it gives the combined venture great clout in online video at a moment when Web streaming and other online distribution of programming is coming into its own via Netflix and other competitors.

Copps also said he fears that loopholes in the conditions imposed on the deal will enable Comcast-NBC U to exert pressure on small cable distributors and content producers who sit across the table during programming and carriage negotiations.

“Consumers can still expect to see high prices passed along to them as Comcast-NBC U remains free to bundle less popular programming with must-have marquee programming,” Copps said.

Meanwhile, Fred Upton, the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, complained that the FCC’s order on the Comcast-NBC U merger went too far.

In a statement, Upton and fellow committee members Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.) said the commission’s decision represents more of a “Chicago-style shakedown than the thoughtful deliberation this transaction deserved,” accusing the commission of “over-reaching” and engaging in “heavyhanded tactics.”

The trio said the committee will examine whether changes are needed in the FCC’s transaction review process.

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