Al Franken Asks Justice Dept. To Investigate Comcast

Minnesota senator Al Franken is doing what he can to throw a wrench into the merger between cable giant Comcast and NBC, the network he once called home during his years on Saturday Night Live. Yesterday, he asked the Justice Department to investigate whether or not Comcast violated anti-trust laws when it announced who would fill the top positions in the acquired company, even though the deal has yet to get DOJ approval.

In September, Comcast announced that its current Chief Operating Officer Steve Burke would take over the reins as CEO of NBC Universal. Burke has subsequently named people to several planned top spots, including Robert Greenblatt as Chairman of NBC Entertainment.

Sen. Franken wants the DOJ to investigate whether or not these actions constitute what’s known as “gun-jumping,” or illegal collaboration between pre-merger companies — a violation of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976.

From the letter sent by Franken to the Attorney General’s office:

By publicly announcing their intended managers of each component of NBC Universal, Comcast has effectively told employees at NBC Universal who their ‘real bosses’ are… Comcast has every right to promote its business and this merger. It does not have the right to effect that merger absent explicit federal approval, or indirectly control or influence NBC Universal until that approval is granted.

You can read the whole letter [PDF] here.

Comments

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  1. Nighthawke says:

    I knew that deal smelled like week-old diapers… About time the DOJ was brought into play to sniff out the rats.

    • u1itn0w2day says:

      iIt’s about fracking time

      Comcrap is turning into Ma Bell all over again except with more exhorbitant pricing, more shotty service and a bigger sense or arrogance.

    • aelfheld says:

      Al’s just worried about his residuals.

      That and he’s probably upset they didn’t offer him a position.

  2. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    That photo doesn’t exactly make Al look like the most intelligent person in the Senate…

    Or does he just look like that all the time?

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    God Bless that man. Really kicking Comcast in the nuts, legally speaking.

  4. TuxthePenguin says:

    Can we please have a bit more information about what is really happening? Maybe a counter-argument why this isn’t gun-jumping? It doesn’t sound unreasonable to outline what the new executive structure would look like… after all, they are MERGING and it won’t just be 1+1=2.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      It seems potential reasonable, but according to this article it violates the law.

      For example, say your direct boss is NBC’s CEO. But, as part of the merger, the NBC CEO is taking a different position, and based on these announcement you will be reporting to the Comcast CEO. They have effective castrated your boss’s authority, and are exerting control over your business. All that before the purchase.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Alternatively, you can look at it this way: If it’s announced your new boss is the CEO of the other company, and that person calls you and tell you do things pre-merger, what do you do? If you don’t obey he’ll likely fire you once the merger kicks in. So by knowing this information, they are exerting control.

  5. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    As a Minnesotan, let me just say for the record that if you tell me to put my trust in 2 of these three people: a politician, a comedian, or a WWF wrestler, the politician is going to get left out in the cold every time.

  6. balthisar says:

    Wow. Who knew that Al Franken — of all people — was anti-capitalist!

  7. Griking says:

    I was wondering myself how Comcast was able to make changes in a company that they technically didn’t own yet.

    That being said, is there any chance (or hope) at all that this merger won’t be permitted?

  8. nova3930 says:

    Because with all the other issues we face as a nation, TV is so vitally important a sitting senator needs to stick his nose in….

    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      So because you don’t consider it important, NBC Uni/Cast should just go ahead and monopolize cable television?

    • ARP says:

      Well when your cable bill goes up, and the marketplace of ideas is reduced to what Comcast approves, etc. it might be important.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Read your history on the importance of television in the world culture, then come back.

      • nova3930 says:

        This post right here is indicative of just how stupid some of the consumerist comment population is.

        The economy is in the tank, we’re rapidly spending ourselves into bankruptcy, are fighting 2 BS wars in countries we have no business being in and a big concern of a sitting US Senator is how appropriate a merger between two TV companies has been. Give me a fucking break!

        Stupidity like that is a big part of why this country is going down the tubes….

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          Then declare yourself an expatriate and move out. Or whine about it on the interwebz. Whatever.

          I’ll use the old addage, “If you’re the only one right, then you’re wrong.” In other words, there are several million Americans who think this merger is an important issue, and you are a single person who does not.

        • ccooney says:

          This is more important than that – allowing a massive consolidation of media means that a single company has massive control over what people see and what they think. This leads to destruction of the democratic process – just look at all the people who think their taxes have gone up since 2008 or get worked up over stupid shit as a result of the three ring media circus.

          Do you really want more of that?

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      His concern is an abusive market position, that would make consumers suffer. Not just whether or not something is on TV as you imply…

    • chargernj says:

      considering that the frequency spectrum that television is considered a public commons whose use is regulated by the government. Yes they should be involved.

      • nova3930 says:

        Frequency is already heavily regulated by the FCC. Yet again, why does he need to be involved in something as trivial as TV with all the other major problems we face as a nation

    • coren says:

      Comcast also provides internet, which is pretty important in the scheme of things.

      • nova3930 says:

        And WTF exactly does NBC do in the realm of internet service where that means dick to the discussion?

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          Would it be better if we discussed this in terms of revenue control that Comcast and NBC collectively control, and how many jobs they influence in the country? Because both of those are significant. So while you may not give a damn about television, that in no way changes the fact that millions of people do, and pay these companies for that service. And that cycle has a significant impact on our economy.

          In other words, your personal opinion on television means precisely shit.

        • coren says:

          Owns a large share of Hulu (the largest, in fact), owns iVillage, and oh yeah, publishes their own content via their various websites.

          Oh, and then there’s their news affiliates – NBC News and MSNBC (arguable). If we’re saying that a signal provider and content provider merging isn’t significant cuz LOL TV SUXORZ as seems to be your argument, distilled, then their online news outlets become more significant.

          NBC, important to the internets? Who knew!

          Nevermind that it isn’t television itself that’s the reasons Franken is getting involved so much as the probable illegality of the whole thing. I guess Senators shouldn’t give a shit about that huh

    • Daemon Xar says:

      Because a huge percentage of Americans already receive TV and internet service from Comcast, and any company with a willingness to mistreat as many customers as they have should be a concern to a sitting Senator? Or the fact that there are about five media companies, and this merger will make it four? Or the fact that Comcast is perfectly willing to abuse their size and influence to decrease competition while increasing costs?

      That enough for you?

  9. dumblonde says:

    I was wondering when someone was going to refer this shady merger to the DOJ!

  10. Bladerunner says:

    Franken has consistently impressed me as a lawmaker. He pulls the Columbo move…”the law says this, and you want to do this, explain to me?”

    It doesn’t seem that he’s anti-capitalist so much as pro-rule-of-law.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Agreed – granted his rule of law arguments tend to be “anti-business”, but that might be because businesses do a bad job of policing themselves. Still, I doubt you can call some liberal or conservative based on the request to follow the fucking law.

    • chocotanya says:

      I’m Canadian, first, and not inclined to be politically involved, second (although I do my duty and inform myself carefully before voting in each election.) I watch videos of Al Franken on YouTube just for fun, because it’s fabulous to see him so well-informed, and tromp his opponents in debate and discussion over so many issues. If more politicians were like him, I’d feel completely differently about politics.

  11. evnmorlo says:

    After his support of internet censorship, its clear that he’s just worried about challenges to the government’s monopoly

    • trailerpark1976 says:

      Seriously. I thought Sen. Franken would be better than voting for COICA but I was wrong. I lost a lot of respect for this guy. Is there any politician that Hollywood can’t buy?

    • EverCynicalTHX says:

      I never liked him from the start when he was frantic to recast the election results..you kinda have to wonder why?

      Then when he turned on us consumers like that was the icing on the cake.

      I don’t think he’ll ever see a 2nd term.

  12. CBenji says:

    No offense, but there are plenty of other things in this world that are monopolies that people don’t ever stick their nose in that don’t get near as much attention. But yes this is a biggie, sorry cable tv might not seem like much, but what about smaller companies in certain market areas that capture all the market for miles around so they can raise the price. I can think of that for health care and gas prices in certain areas in PA, and NY. Is that called a monopoly or just price fixing especially if the players all agree to only go below a certain threshold for the asking price.

  13. davidsco says:

    At least Al is doing something about Comcast. McCain never did as chairman of the Telecomm committee. I guess they were too far in is pockets

  14. brianary says:

    Now can we turn Al around on the internet blacklist he voted in favor of?

  15. Macgyver says:

    It’s not a violation of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act. According to wikipedia, an I quote
    “The Act provides that before certain mergers, tender offers or other acquisition transactions can close, both parties must file a “Notification and Report Form” with the Federal Trade Commission and the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice. The filing describes the proposed transaction and the parties to it.”
    People already know about the merger, all that Comcast is doing is talking about moving people around, and people are not transactions.

    So, they already have a plan in place when the merger goes through. Nothing’s wrong with that.
    There’s no reason for the DOJ to get involved in anything.
    And this is a business deal between two companies, nobody else should be involved in it.

    • Daemon Xar says:

      So if Raytheon decides to sell military technology to a Chinese defense company, it’s just “a business deal between two companies, nobody else should be involved in it”?

      I realize that’s an argument ad absurdum, but it makes my point. Arguing that the government shouldn’t interevene in business transactions is silly. Virtually any large transaction like this will have significant impacts on people and entities beyond the parties to the transaction, and may even affect the general public.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      If you RTFA, Franken uses proper notation for his arguments, including citing Supreme Court cases in which the specifics of his complaints are outlined by law. Included in these citations is a court case in which the Supreme Court included designating management as a barred action pre-merger.

      You’ve been RTFA’d!

  16. lyllydd says:

    Hey, Franken, how about asking congress to investigate the TSA — very thoroughly!

    • Galium says:

      Sorry, Al and all members of congres are not subject to TSA inspections. That is why they do not see any problems with TSA, or how TSA treats people. TSA the only job where pedophiles and other perverts can get legal feels and pictures.

  17. OnePumpChump says:

    Al Franken asks for yet another good thing that won’t happen.