Boucher backs merger

Lawmaker supports Comcast, NBC venture

A key House lawmaker has come out in favor of the Comcast and NBC Universal joint venture, but he also gave regulators a list of suggested significant conditions on how the combined company distributes Web video.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, urged the FCC and the Dept. of Justice to approve the transaction by Dec. 1 — the same frame Comcast and NBC U expect a decision.

Boucher’s letters to FCC chief Julius Genachowski and Asst. Atty. Gen. Christine Varney, who heads the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, focused on concerns over the joint venture’s impact on Web video. Boucher outlined steps he said could “mitigate the potential for consumer harm” from the combination of major broadcast and cable networks with the largest cable and Internet provider.

Among them are a prohibition on NBC programming migrating exclusively to TV Everywhere, the services that Comcast and other cable providers are setting up so subscribers can access premium content online.

He also wrote that the combined company should not be able to restrict the availability of online programming content — whether it owns that content or is unaffiliated — through exclusive agreements that freeze out other Internet sites and platforms. He said Internet devices should not be prevented from displaying any of the Comcast or NBC U’s programming services.

Boucher was concerned that major sporting events would shift from over-the-air free TV to pay networks. Comcast, NBC U and the NBC affiliates have reached an agreement that addresses sports availabilty, but Boucher would like those to be part of the conditions of approval by regulators.

Although some critics of the joint venture have urged that the FCC and DOJ impose “net neutrality” rules, which would require that Comcast treat all Internet content at equal rates of quality and speed, Boucher said that no such conditions should be included, as it would be “highly inappropriate” to impose the rules when they should be “applicable across the industry.” The FCC is mulling new net neutrality rules, and Congress is expected to soon take up legislation.

Comcast had no comment on the letter.

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