In a memo to be circulated today, Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski is expected to tell his fellow commissioners that he wants Comcast to agree to certain conditions before approving the cable giant’s takeover of NBC. Among them: a guarantee that competitors will be able to get access to NBC programs at fair rates, and an assurance that the company won’t throttle streaming services such as Netflix.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the conditions will also include allowing access to NBC programming by competitors:
Mr. Genachowski also will propose conditions that would make Comcast offer NBC programming to other online video providers. Comcast would be required to offer NBC programming to any online video provider who has reached a similar deal for content from one of NBC’s competitors, such as Walt Disney Co. or Fox Television, a division of News Corp.
News Corp. owns Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Genachowski will propose a condition that would require Comcast to keep similar channels, like sports or news channels, close together on cable systems that have both moved to all-digital programming and have set up such programming neighborhoods. That condition was similar to a request from Bloomberg LLC, which hired former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to make sure that the financial news giant’s cable channel is located close to CNBC after the deal closes.
FCC commissioners are expected to vote on the deal in January. Consumer advocates, including Consumer Union, the parent of Consumerist, have criticized the proposed acquisition as being a bad deal for consumers. “The companies maintain they can be trusted not to engage in anti-competitive practices, but Comcast has a well-documented history of treating customers poorly,” Parul P. Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union, said recently. Consumers Union has not yet issued a statement on Genachowski’s proposal.
UPDATE: Consumers Union’s Parul P. Desai issued the following statement in response to the FCC announcement:
We believe that consumers would be best served if the deal was rejected. It’s hard to imagine how a cable giant like Comcast owning a content empire like NBC Universal could be a plus for consumers’ pocketbooks and competition. The FCC appears to have identified the right areas of concern, including program and online access to content, but the devil is in the details. Since it appears the FCC is likely to approve the deal, it must take seriously its obligations to protect the public interest and adopt strict and enforceable conditions.