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Small Cable Op Pans Post's Pro-Comcast/NBCU Comments

Calling the Comcast/NBCU merger "not just another ho-hum transaction between widget suppliers," American Cable Association members Todd and Scott Shilling of Bay Country Communications of Cambridge Md., have taken issue with the Washington Post's editorial supporting the deal.

Bay Country, which identifies itself as a direct competitor to Comcast in the D.C. market, sees the editorial as an effort to discount the concerns of small cable operators over issues like bargaining power, program pricing, and competition, according to a copy of the letter supplied to B&C.

"It is vitally important that regulators prevent Comcast-NBCU from using enhanced market power derived from their venture to raise consumer prices and undercut the level of competition in the marketplace. Without affordable and non-discriminatory access to these essential video programming services, our company will not be able to offer a commercially viable and robust alternative to consumers in our community," they argue.

The Post editorial said that regulators should scrutinize the deal, and said it could mandate arbitration of program disputes, as has been the case in prior mergers, but that the FCC should approve the deal and monitor the company carefully.

[T]o say that regulators should approve the deal and 'watch the newly formed company carefully,'" the Shillings argue, "is the antithesis of good government. Once a merger is approved, there is no turning back. Regulators have one chance to get it right. A sober, fact-based assessment of the Comcast-NBCU merger is crucial for the process to be considered fair. The views of opponents should be accorded equal weight rather than belittled by your editorial as predictable rants by merger groupies."

ACA has been a strong and consistent critic of the deal as posing potential consumer and competitive harms.

ACA's proposed conditions, which have been endorsed by an alliance of small telcos including the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association and the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunication Companies, include to apply program access rules to all TV stations, owned or managed by NBC, as well as to all regional sports nets (RSNs) delivered either by satellite or terrestrially and to online distribution; unbundling TV station retrans deals from other carriage agreements and do the same for RSNs; outside arbitration for retrans impasses and special arbitration for the smaller operators ACA represents; and standstill agreements so NBC stations cannot remove signals during retrans impasses.

Comcast argues that ACA's wish list is essentially a recitation of its general advocacy for changes to the program access and retrans regimes, and that when they do differ, the conditions are not transaction-specific. "In short, says Comcast,

"ACA's effort to paint its proposed conditions as tied directly to the transaction are belied by the fact that...those conditions are part of a pre-existing, industry-wide, and long-standing program access agenda... [T]he commission should not impose such conditions in this transaction proceeding," the company concludes.