Judge adds additional oversight regarding deal's impact

A federal judge on Thursday gave the final signoff on Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal, but he added additional oversight regarding the deal’s impact on competition and the burgeoning online video market.

The Justice Dept. and the FCC gave the greenlight to the transaction in January, but it was still up to a federal judge to approve the list of conditions. Central to concerns of regulators has been whether Comcast would gain an unfair advantage that would allow it to control the direction of the growth of online video, with Netflix and others dependent on a steady flow of programming.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said he “grew increasingly concerned” over whether a streamlined arbitration process set up to handle disputes between Comcast and online video providers was in the public interest because there was no appeal mechanism. He also said he was unsure whether the Dept. of Justice would be “adequately empowered’ to enforce the terms of the agreement. He said he was adding additional oversight because “neither the court nor the parties has a crystal ball to forecast” how the deal and its list of conditions will work.

Leon ordered monitoring of how many online video providers request arbitration from the Dept. of Justice, as well as how many video providers seek a separate FCC arbitration process. The court will hold an annual hearing to determine whether the merger is in the public interest.

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