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Franken fires up call for Comcast probe

Urges FCC, Dept. of Justice to investigate alleged anticompetitive practices

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is reviving his criticism of Comcast’s combination with NBC Universal, calling on the Department of Justice and the FCC to more swiftly investigate claims of anticompetitive conduct.

In a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and the other commissioners, as well as Acting Assistant Attorney General Sharis Pozen, Franken also said he was “very concerned” about Comcast’s recent announcement that it will exempt its Xfinity on demand service for the Xbox 360 from counting against the data cap for broadband service. He asked them to investigate whether this would violate net neutrality by giving preference to Comcast services and not to those of competitors, like online streaming services.

“When the Obama administration signed off on Comcast’s merger with NBCUniversal, it laid out a set of rules to prevent Comcast from squashing its competitors — including popular cable alternatives — and hurting consumers who have seen rapidly rising cable rates over the last several years,” Franken said in a statement. “If Comcast is violating the administration’s orders, it should face significant penalties so consumers know they can count on the administration to protect it from anticompetitive conduct that could mean higher bills.”

In his letter, Franken also cited the FCC’s recent ruling that Comcast violated the merger order by refusing to put the Bloomberg TV channel in the same “neighborhood” as other news networks. But he said that “it should not have taken the Commission more than 10 months to issue an order on this complaint.”

He also cited the case of the Tennis Channel, which filed a complaint against Comcast for favoring Golf Channel and Versus, two sports networks in which it has a stake, by putting those channels in a much more desirable tier. An administrative law judge sided with Tennis Channel, although the FCC is expected to rule soon on whether to order Comcast to alter its lineup immediately or grant it a stay as it pursues an appeal.

Sena Fitzmaurice, VP of government communications for Comcast, said the company and NBCU are “fully complying with (indeed exceeding)” the conditions placed on its combination.

Fitzmaurice added that the Xfinity app for the X Box “does not stream content over the open Internet” and is part of its cable service that is not part of net neutrality rules.

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