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Former Comcast/NBCU Deal Critics Praise Deal Conditions

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While some public interest groups were screaming the equivalent of bloody murder after the government approved the Comcast/NBCU deal Tuesday, some one-time deal critics were more upbeat.

Bloomberg, which had argued Comcast would have the ability and incentive to favor its own business news nets over Bloomberg, pointed to the condition requiring Comcast to put competitor's business news channels in the same neighborhood as its own.

Praising what he said was the FCC's "strong action to preserve independent news programming, and protect competitors against discrimination," Bloomberg President Dan Doctoroff said in a statement Tuesday that the FCC recognized "the critical importance of neighborhooding and ensuring that independent channels are treated fairly and consumers are protected."

Comcast EVP David Cohen had actually listed a general neighborhooding condition as one of the things the FCC did not impose, but drew a distinction between that and the narrower neighborhooding condition Bloomberg had sought.
The Independent Film & Television Alliance had been an early critic of the deal and what it saw as its potential for reducing opportunities for independent distributors. But after striking an agreement with Comcast, the group withdrew its objections.

On Tuesday, IFTA pointed out that the closing of the deal, expected to be by the end of the month, would trigger their July 12 agreement, which would provide "real opportunities for independent producers on the Comcast and NBC platforms, and increase the public's access to diverse programming," said IFTA President Jean Prewitt in a statement.

She said she hoped that the agreement, which includes an independent development fund, increased pitch opportunities and access to Comcast new media platforms, "can be a model that can be implemented across the industry."

The American Cable Association, which pushed for conditions to aid it in program disputes, was pleased with the help it got through two key remedies in the FCC order. One is that operators with 1.5 million or fewer subs can designate a bargaining agent to take Comcast/NBCU to baseball-style arbitration and providers with 600,000 or fewer subs will only have to pay for their legal fees and costs if they lose.

"We applaud the FCC Chairman and Commissioners for producing an order faithful to the exacting review that FCC staff performed in response to transaction-specific harms demonstrated by ACA in numerous filings and economic studies during the past year," said ACA President Matt Polka. "Under Chairman Genachowski, the FCC has set a high standard by which future transactions involving media giants with  formidable market power will be judged."

One critic unassuaged by either the FCC's conditions or Comcast's voluntary proposals was the Parents Television Council. "The conditions placed on the merger fall well short of serving the public interest. On a far-too-regular basis, the American public is held hostage in disputes between television programmers and video distributors; and this regime is only likely to grow worse over time," said PTC President Time Winter. "The public can be sure of one thing today: It is business as usual with the lobbyist powerbrokers in Washington," he said.