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Lawmakers call on US to extend conditions of Comcast-NBC merger

Not that they're likely to be heard in the current climate.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
February 5, 2018
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When Comcast acquired NBCUniversal back in 2011, the deal came with strings attached: among others, it had to abide by 2010-era net neutrality rules, provide affordable internet to low-income families and avoid discriminating against rivals. Well, all those conditions have lifted... and that's not making some officials happy. FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Senator Richard Blumenthal have written an op-ed calling on the government to either extend those conditions or institute new rules relevant to the modern era. The communications giant has discovered ways of using its resources to "harm consumers and competition," the lawmakers argued, and some of those have violated the FCC's terms for the merger.

Blumenthal and Clyburn note that the FCC had to crack down on Comcast a mere 17 months after the merger after it didn't offer affordable internet as promised. It has also been busted for discriminating against Bloomberg Television, and just this October faced complaints from smaller cable providers who said Comcast was preventing rival regional sports networks from offering services at fair rates.

And then there's internet video. While you certainly have many more options for streaming video than you did in 2011, Comcast can provide an "unfair advantage" to the services it supports (such as Xfinity Instant TV and Hulu) by keeping its channels and shows off of competing products. Without the merger terms in place, there's nothing to stop Comcast from, say, pulling all NBC shows from Netflix.

The two officials are hopeful regulators will see the light, and not entirely without merit. They note that the Justice Department hit AT&T with an antitrust lawsuit over its attempt to buy Time Warner. However, we wouldn't count on Blumenthal or Clyburn getting a warm reception. The current US administration is focused on wide-scale deregulation, including killing net neutrality and allowing media consolidation. It's definitely not going to restore net neutrality terms, and it's unlikely to be enthusiastic about imposing new conditions as a general rule.

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