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Activist Groups Call For Comcast/NBCU FCC Field Hearings

Public activist groups who are also veteran critics of the proposed Comcast/NBCU joint venture are calling on the FCC to hold public field hearings on the deal.

That call follows the commission's denial earlier this week of a petition by a Pan-Asian group, the Mabuhay Alliance, that the FCC hold off its review of the deal until it held separate hearings and independent fact-finding on the deal's impact on Asian-Americans and other minorities.

The groups, comprising Free Press, Media Access Project, Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America, suggest the hearings are a no-brainer. The commission has almost never scheduled such hearings, according to an FCC spokesman, who points out that it usually collects public input on mergers through written comments and reply comments. The FCC has been asked by several groups for more time for those written comments, though it has so far declined to grant the requests.

Free Press acknowledges that the commission has not held any merger-specific field hearings in the last decade, under Repubolican leadership, but points out in the letter that it did hold field hearings on a number of mergers in the past, including AOL/Time Warner, AT&T/Media One, MCI WorldCom/Sprint, SBC/Ameritech, Bell Atlantic/GTE and AT&T/Tele-Communications Inc.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the groups express concern that the commission "has yet to release a schedule or plans for public hearings," saying that is "despite FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's pledge to increase public participation in agency matters."

"This Commission has repeatedly expressed its commitment to greater transparency and public outreach, the letter says. "Indeed, in a number of other important proceedings, the FCC has scheduled and held multiple field hearings. We expect this same commitment to apply to the Commission's review of specific transactions, particularly those with as far-reaching implications for consumers and the public as presented in the Comcast-NBCU merger."