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Comcast-NBCU: Opposition Groups Raise Issues Before Hill Hearings

Four out of five merger critics agree, the FCC and Department of Justice should not allow the Comcast/NBCU merger to go through.

The fifth, the American Cable Association (ACA), is pushing for conditions and concessions instead of outright opposition because it concedes the deal will probably go through.

"We are looking at the merger realistically said ACA President Matt Polka. "We believe that it is mostly likely that the merger will be approved. So, we have not opposed the merger per se. We continue to raise serious concerns and objections and will be working very aggressively... to demonstrate the harm and the need for significant conditions to be placed on the merger."

That came in a conference call Wednesday with reporters and representatives of ACA, Free Press, The Communications Workers of America, Media Access Project and Wealth TV, the last which had a program carriage complaint against Comcast denied.

The group was in agreement that the merger would give the combined companies the opportunity and incentive to raise prices and deny programming to competitors, including in the online space.

They were echoing points they have made before, but doing so in advance of tomorrow's Hill hearings on the deal.

At about the same time the groups were outlining those concerns, Comcast was posting a blog item on its pitch to legislators on the deal's pro-consumer aspects.

In that post, Comcast EVP David Cohen, said the deal would not hurt competition and repeated the company's pledges to preserve NBC News, and not to turn NBC into a cable channel.

Cohen also said that the company plays such a "small role" in the Internet video market that "it just isn't credible to conclude that we have any capacity to get in the way of the development of video over the Internet."

On that point there is stark difference between the company and the groups mounting their opposition. They argued Wednesday that the new company, given its size and assets, could help determine the future course of online video.

They were all of one voice that access to online content was a big concern, including the possibility that the new company could restrict independent access to NBC content online, or kneecap Hulu--in which NBC has a 30% interest, in favor of Comcast's competing online video efforts.

While Debbie Goldman of the Communications Workers of America, suggested there could be conditions to require online access to content by competitors, Andrew Schwartzman of Media Access Project, who is scheduled to testify at tomorrow's Senate Antitrust Subcommittee hearing, said on Wednesday's conference call that there was no palliative that would ameliorate the anticompetitive harms or that should prevent this deal from being DOA.