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FCC Has Yet to VoteOut Comcast/NBCU

At press time Monday, the FCC commissioners had yet to vote out the Comcast/NBCU merger, according to spokespeople for several of the commissioners, and a source close to one of them said their office was still vetting the first draft of the decision, which was circulated just before Christmas.

While the FCC's transaction team and chairman Julius Genachowski have signaled the deal should be approved with a number of conditions, deal critics continue to weigh in with their concerns.

From Capitol Hill, a pair of Democratic Senators, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jeff Merkley of Oregon wrote to the commission with concernes about independent programmers and small and midsized cable operators, respectively.

McCaskill suggested there should be conditions that prevent Comcast from placing independent programming on a premium tier while placing its owned, competitive channels on a more widely viewed platform. That is the current complaint of The Tennis Channel against Comcast. An FCC administrative law judge is scheduled to hear that complaint in March.

"These actions may violate the spirit," of protecting unaffiliated programming from discrimination, "if not the law..." she said. "I am also concerned that they may become more commonplace following this merger, as Comcast will have even greater programming interests than it does today, including several top-rated national cable networks.

Merkley, echoing the concerns of the American Cable Association, asked whether there was a way to address differential pricing between rural and urban markets\. He also cited potential cable bill boosts, access to Portland Trailblazers games, and network neutrality.

"How will the FCC protect network neutrality for Comcast customers," he asks. According to various sources within the FCC, the current draft has a network neutrality condition that is stronger than the new FCC rules adopted Dec. 21, and will extend for seven years even if the FCC rules were thrown out by the courts before that.