Comcast won government approval for its merger with NBC Universal, but critics were at the ready to characterize regulators’ conditions as mere window dressing.
They were led by FCC commissioner Michael Copps, the sole vote of dissent against the transaction. In a lengthy statement, he said that the merger “opens the door to the cable-ization of the open Internet. The potential for walled gardens, toll booths, content prioritization, access fees to reach end users, and a stake in the heart of independent content production is now very real.”
One of the most vocal critics on Capitol Hill was Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who once worked with NBC on the series “Lateline” and was a regular on “Saturday Night Live.” He called the government approval a “tremendous disappointment.”
“By approving this merger, the FCC may have just given a green light to AT&T and Verizon to pursue similar mergers with ABC/Disney or CBS/Viacom,” he said. “But, this does not mean the fight is over. A growing number of Americans stand behind me ready to fight any further media consolidation of this kind.”
One the other side of the political spectrum, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, saw the FCC’s list of conditions as heavy handed.
He said, “We are glad Comcast can now get back to doing business and creating jobs, but the price of doing so should not be coerced compliance with the heavy-handed tactics of an overreaching FCC. The FCC’s efforts to circumvent both the free market and courts by railroading job- and investment-harming net neutrality provisions, as well as regulation of nascent Internet-distributed video, represent more of a Chicago-style shakedown than the thoughtful deliberation this transaction deserved. We will be examining whether changes in the FCC’s transaction review process are needed as we exercise congressional oversight in the weeks to come.”
The Writers Guild of America, East released this statement: “The Writers Guild of America, East is disappointed by the FCC’s approval of the joint venture between Comcast and NBC Universal. We consistently have opposed this action because entertainment and news media already are too consolidated; too few multinational mega-corporations control what people watch on television and in movie theaters. The Comcast/NBCU deal is particularly frightening because it brings together one of the largest internet service and cable TV providers with one of the largest content providers. Without strong and meaningful safeguards, the economics of the deal virtually mandate that Comcast/NBCU will discriminate in favor of its own content and leave writers and other independent members of the creative community out in the cold. This will impact not only entertainment programming but the diversity of news and public affairs voices so vital to a democracy.
“We applaud Commissioner Copps for his opposition to the deal as approved. While we also appreciate that the FCC has conditioned its approval on a number of commitments made by Comcast and NBCU, with all due respect, we think these conditions simply make the venture a little less disastrous. 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. “