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Free Press Launches Online Campaign To Block Comcast/NBCU

The combination of the nation's top cable operator, Comcast, and NBC Universal, with its broadcast, cable and studio assets, threatens competition, innovation, labor rights, and the public interest, and pundits predicting a slam dunk don't understand the problem or the strength of the opposition.

That rallying cry came in a conference call with reporters Friday as public interest groups ramped up their campaign against the meld and reports swirled that an announcement of a deal was imminent.

Sounding that warning were public interest groups, the Communications Workers of American union, and online media player company, Vuze, which uses the BitTorrent application to deliver full-screen HD video and could face stronger online video competition from a combined Comcast/NBCU. CWA said its union represents 6,000 Comcast employees and 2,500 NBCU employees.

Free Press Executive Director Josh Silver said the organization was launching an online effort to block the merger, and likened it to the online campian in 2003 to block the FCC's media ownership rule rewrite.

The groups said that supporters of the deal did not understand the antitrust implications of combining power in the Internet, broadcast and cable distribution, and production spaces, or the administration's commitment to stronger merger oversight.

Consumer Federation of America's Mark Cooper said that if the deal did go through, it would need a raft of conditions including nondicriminatory access to content both over the air (wire) and online, spin-off of the broadcasting stations and more. Cooper said that the pundits predicting a "slam dunk" for the merger had not done the kind of antitrust analysis of the "damage" to competition that the government would be undertaking.

Cooper warned that the combo could remove Hulu as an independent competitor to cable online efforts.

For his part, Silver said he did not see any conditions under which the deal would pass muster with his group. "I really don't see a way, not unless the conditions were such that they would no longer be an appealing deal."

The FCC and Justice are expected to take a hard look at the deal, but soon after the talks were first reported, Wall Street and even some in the public interest community suggested that though there could be hurdles, including conditions put on the merger, they did not see any outright roadblocks.