The Comcast/NBCU deal has developed a home state rooting section on Capitol Hill.
According to filings in the FCC's docket on the proposed merger, both Pennsylvania senators and a bipartisan
majority of its representatives have weighed in in support of the deal.
And they are endorsements, rather than the sometimes couched phrasing of such letters, in which legislators often
ask that the FCC give a deal its swiftest and most thorough vetting without actually coming out and saying it
should be approved.
In the letter Senators Arlen Specter and Robert Casey, both Democrats, and more than a dozen Pennsylvania reps lead with the endorsement. "We write in support of the proposed Comcast/General Electrion joint venture regarding NBC Universal," they said, then added the push for a "timely review."
They talked about the potential benefits of the combo, citing the public interest statement the two companies made
to the FCC and its promises of more quantity, quality and diversity of programming, as well as commitments to
news and public affairs and kids programming, many of which they said go "far beyond what it required by law."
"We believe the benefits of this transaction are manifold and welcome the FCC's commitment to conduct this review
expeditiously to ensure that the parties to the transaction are not harmed by undue delay, and so they can begin to
deliver the promised benefits to the public very soon."
Very soon won't be before at least August, and likely closer to the end of the year. The deadline for reply
comments on the deal is now August after the FCC stopped the clock on the deal last month to collect more
information. That informal 180-day shot clock won't restart until June 3, which gives the commission until December
to meet its own self-imposed deadline, though they could potentially beat the deadline as well.
But not all legislators were as sanguine about the deal.
Also filing letters were Dan Boren (D-Okla.) and Stacey Herseth Sandlin (D-SD). While neither opposed the deal, they did have concerns.
Boren, writing in support of smaller cable operators, said the FCC needed to vet the deal with an eye toward
whether the marketplace is working for smaller operators and their customers. Echoing the concerns of the American
Cable Association, he said that he had heard from constituents that smaller operators were paying "significantly
higher rates" for programming than larger operators (comcast is the largest), and that programmers affiliated with
those larger operators benefit from a volume discount "loophole." Boren said that the proceeding "provides an
opportunity for the Commission to examine whether the market is operating fairly, particularly for smaller
Sandlin, also giving a shout out to smaller, rural cable operators, called for conditions on the deal to make sure it did not lead to higher programming costs. Those included removing the possibility of volume discounts by requiring Comcast/NBCU to offer smaller ops the same per-sub rate for programming offered to other MVPDS and to unbundle programming, like sports nets, and unbundling all video content from Web content.
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