Regulators push for tough conditions in Comcast / NBC deal, aim to protect internet video

Is it the deal that'll never go through? Some might hope. For the better part of this year, Comcast has been jonesing to pick up a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal (for a cool $13.75 billion), but as you'd expect regulators have been poking and prodding the arrangement from just about every angle. The potential antitrust issues go on for miles, and now officials are paying particularly close attention to how the deal could shape the future of internet video. As you may or may not know, NBC holds a 32 percent stake in Hulu, and in theory, a Comcast buyout would enable it to limit access to other ISPs or force Comcast internet subscribers to also pay for a programming package in order to have access. A new AP report on the topic mentions that the US government is considering forcing Comcast to sell NBC's Hulu stake as a stipulation for the deal to go through, and moreover, they may insist that Comcast provide online access to NBC Universal's content library without a cable sub. Currently, Time Warner Cable requires users to sign up cable in order to access ESPN3 -- a nasty, strong-arm tactic at its finest -- and if the Fed gets its way, it could also set a new precedent for other operators. Needless to say, there's quite a bit to be sorted before NBC bigwigs take on corner offices at Comcast, and there's an awful lot at stake along the way.