Clyburn, Blumenthal Call for Return of Comcast/NBCU Conditions

A pair of Democrats, one from the Hill and the other the FCC, took to the op ed Web page of Bloomberg to call for the FCC to impose new conditions on the Comcast/NBCU deal or adopt more widely applicable rules, or strengthen the program access rule, and for the Justice Department to look into any potential anticompetitive threat from the sunsetting of deal conditions last month.

Those calls, from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, are unlikely to sway Republicans in charge of the FCC or get any backing from Republicans in Congress, though the Trump Justice Department has appeared concerned about media company leverage over must-have programming like regional sports networks.

The pair invoke, for one example, a complaint from the American Cable Association that Comcast/NBCU was preventing rivals from offering a basic broadcast tier at fair prices.

Last week, ACA called on the FCC to toughen its program access rule, citing the sunset of the conditions and the issues it said still remained.

Related: Public Knowledge Seeks DOJ Look at Comcast-NBCU Conditions

Activist groups, joined by Blumenthal, have also called for an investigation into Comcast's compliance with the conditions, and wanted the conditions extended, which did not happen.

The program access rules still apply to Comcast-NBCU. It is just the added conditions tied to the deal that were sunsetting as scheduled, though some groups had pushed for extending them, citing the Justice Department issues with vertical integration and access to programming that prompted it to file suit against the AT&T-Time Warner merger proposal.

While Blumenthal and Clyburn conceded that the video marketplace has changed a lot form 2011, when the deal was approved and the seven-year conditions imposed, with the rise of Netflix and Hulu and Amazon and Sling TV and others providing access to video, Comcast still "can give its own video service an unfair advantage by withholding from the other services NBC's broadcast television stations or Comcast's regional sports networks."

"For the majority of Americans who still get their video from pay-TV providers, and for the growing number who rely on an online video distributor, the expiration of the merger conditions brings a less competitive marketplace," Blumenthal and Clyburn concluded.

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

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.