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NYT Calls For Online Access Conditions in Comcast/NBCU

The New York Times editorial page argued Monday that the Comcast/NBCU merger needs online access conditions and should be forced to provide "reasonably priced" standalone broadband.

The paper talks ominously of the combined company being able to stamp out online innovation without "precise conditions on access to online content." Comcast and NBCU have argued that online is a nascent and competitive market that does not need such conditions and that whatever the FCC or Justice decide to do, the combined company should have the same flexibility to come up with online delivery models as its competition, which is another way of asking the FCC not to regulate by conditions.

And while Comcast is not eager for network neutrality regs either, it has signaled it can live with the FCC's expansion and codification of its network openness guidelines so long as they remain essentially unchanged from what FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is reportedly proposing in a draft order scheduled for a Dec. 21 vote.

Latching onto a complaint last week by online backbone services Level 3 that Comcast had suddenly raised its price for access to its customers, the Times advised the FCC and Justice Department to take their time (the deal just passed its one-year anniversary Dec. 3. and the FCC's informal 180-day shot clock for vetting the merger went into overtime starting on Thanksgiving).

"If the merger between Comcast and NBC is to be approved, these tactics must be put off limits," the NYT said. "The merged company must be made to provide content not only to rival cable systems but also to Internet-only rivals, on reasonable terms. And it should also commit, in a legally binding way, to offer reasonably priced broadband subscriptions independent of its TV bundles."

The Washington Post in an editorial in October also suggested there could be conditions on the deal, but advised to avoid network neutrality conditions, which would include nondiscriminatory access to content and applications if the FCC gets its way later this month. But the bottom line of the Pose's editorial was that the deal should go through with the companies watched carefully.