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Copps: Comcast/NBCU 'Damaging and Potentially Dangerous'

Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps, the lone dissent in the FCC's 4-1 approval of the Comcast/NBCU deal Tuesday, said the commission's efforts to "ameliorate" what he saw as the potential harms of the deal were not enough to keep it from essentially failing the FCC's test of whether such mergers advance the public interest.

"I searched in vain for the benefits," he said in a stinging dissent from the deal, an embargoed copy of which was supplied to B&C. "I could find little more than such touted gains as 'the elimination of double marginalization.' Pardon me, but a deal of this size should be expected to yield more than the limited benefits cited."

"In sum, this is simply too much, too big, too powerful, too lacking in benefits for American consumers and citizens.... I would be true to neither the statute nor to everything I have fought for here at the Commission over the past decade if I did not dissent from what I consider to be a damaging and potentially dangerous deal," he said. 

He said many of the promised conditions do no more than maintain the status quo, which he said does not serve the public interest. Deal critics outside the FCC have been suggesting that preventing harms was not the same as promoting benefits, and that the FCC's conditions did not do enough of the latter.

Copps said he had talked with stakeholders on all sides, and praised the work of the FCC's transaction team and its coordination with the Justice Department, but added: "[A]t the end of the day, the public interest requires more-much more-than it is receiving. The Comcast-NBCU joint venture opens the door to the cable-ization of the open Internet. The potential for walled gardens, toll booths, content prioritization, access fees to reach end users, and a stake in the heart of independent content production is now very real."

The deal does contain various conditions on access and carriage of linear and online programming and network neutrality, as well as diversity and journalism commitments, but none were sufficient. For example, he said that NBC had not taken his requires to beef up its news operations seriously. "Increasing the quantity of news by adding hours of programming is no substitute for improving the quality of news by devoting the necessary resources," he said.

Comcast has pledged to add 1,000 hours of news and public affairs to NBC O&O stations, six Telemundo stations, and partner in half its NBC O&O markets with nonprofit community online news sources. "The slight tip of the hat that the applicants have made toward some very limited support of local media projects does not even begin to address the core of the problem," said Copps.