Blumenthal: DOJ Should Extend Comcast-NBCU Conditions

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wants the Justice Department to open an investigation into the impact of the expiration of the Comcast-NBCU deal conditions in September of next year, including whether Justice should try to break up the company, and in the interim to extend the expiration date of the conditions. Comcast says there is no credible basis for extending the conditions, much less breaking up the company.

That came in a letter to antitrust chief Makan Delrahim.

Blumenthal said Justice may want to consider breaking up the company to "fully protect competition," and cited DOJ's suit to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger. He said that suit signaled the department has come to recognize the advantage of structural remedies over behavior remedies."

Actually, Delrahim had signaled that was the case before the suit was filed,

Blumenthal said the principles DOJ invoked to justify the suit--the incentive and ability to favor or discriminate against content--similarly justify an investigation of Comcast-NBCU.

“There is no credible basis to pursue an extension or modification of the consent decree or conditions," said Comcast SVP government communications Sena Fitzmaurice. "For nearly seven years, Comcast has met or exceeded all of the commitments and obligations under the NBCUniversal transaction."

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"We have filed six annual compliance reports with the FCC setting forth in detail our exemplary compliance track record, none of which has been challenged or objected to by the Commission or any third parties, including by any member of Congress. The DOJ, which has received substantial information about our compliance with the consent decree, has never pursued any enforcement action against us. All of the market segments in which we do business are more robust and more competitive now than they were before our NBCUniversal transaction, including the explosive growth of online video distributors, which Comcast-NBCUniversal has significantly fostered through hundreds of OVD content licenses, substantial broadband investment and expansion, and inclusion of OVDs like Netflix, You Tube, and Sling TV on our innovative X1 platform.

“We have reached dozens of content deals with MVPDs without loss of programming to consumers. In fact, the arbitration mechanism created in the FCC order has been used by only one MVPD over seven years.There is simply no precedent and no need for the conditions to be extended or modified, or our transaction revisited.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.