Will The Strings Attached To Comcast/NBC Deal Be Effective?

Both the FCC and the Justice Department have effectively cleared the way for Comcast (aka, that cable company from Philadelphia) to own a majority of NBC Universal, but the regulators did so with several strings attached to the deal. But the question remains: Will these rules do anything to protect consumers?

Among the regulations outlined by the FCC [PDF] and the Justice Dept., are:

*Comcast/NBC must license its programming to online distributors that have obtained distribution agreements with one of NBCU’s peers.

*Comcast can’t do anything that would unduly limit content owners’ abilities to freely negotiate creative arrangements with Comcast competitors.

*The Comcast/NBC Voltron is not allowed to “retaliate against any broadcast network, affiliate, cable programmer, production studio or content provider for licensing content to Comcast competitors.”

*Comcast must relinquish its management rights in Hulu, which is a joint venture of NBC, Fox and ABC, “so Comcast cannot use NBCU’s partial ownership of Hulu to diminish its competitive significance.”

Consumers Union, the parent company of this-here website, appears to be taking a cautious but not-totally-pessimistic view of these regulations.

“By approving the transaction with conditions and enforcement measures, regulators are acknowledging that the combination of two media giants poses some very real threats,” explains Parul P. Desai, policy counsel for CU. “Based on what we now know about some of the conditions attached to the transaction, we think that they are significant and could help to limit anti-consumer, anti-competitive behavior by Comcast-NBCU.

“The conditions that are reportedly attached to the deal provide some needed assurances for consumers. Regulators appear to be addressing the right issues, and they are well aware that there must be strict and swift enforcement of them. Toothless enforcement could allow Comcast-NBCU to engage in delaying tactics and anti-competitive behavior until the conditions just expire.”

One big concern for CU is that regulators don’t appear to have adequately addressed the ability of independent programmers to be carried on Comcast’s cable system.

“As fewer companies control the distribution and programming of broadband and TV, it is essential that these conditions are implemented in a way that will move the market to a place where consumers have legitimate choices and competitive prices,” Desai says.

You can learn more about CU’s take on the Comcast/NBC deal at HearUsNow.org, its telecommunications website.

Comments

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  1. dblevins says:

    Of course not, none have been effective in the past.

  2. LeonardoLeonardo says:

    The dumb this is these conditions expire in 7 years, I think. Why even do that?

    Though maybe if we can get some decent network neutrality rules by then, it’ll be moot as cable TV and TV networks will be obsolete. *fingers crossed*

  3. Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

    “…until the conditions just expire”

    Expire? Why?

  4. TerpBE says:

    Of course these restrictions will be effective, just as the Sirius/XM “price freeze” was effective.

    Oh, wait….Sirius/XM INCREASED their prices (labeled a “royalties fee”) and reduced the service (eliminated web streaming unless you paid $2.99 extra) during this “price freeze”.

    In other words, if you apply restrictions on big companies, they’ll either find technicalities around them or just ignore them and say, “so what are you going to do about it?”

    Then again, Comcast has seemed so consumer-friendly in the past. I’m sure they’d NEVER do anything like that.

  5. The_Fuzz_53 says:

    We’re screwed.

  6. Skellbasher says:

    Not optimistic. The FCC has a long history of toothlessness, not enforcing it’s own regulations, or anything else for that matter.

    Comcast/NBC will eventually break these rules, and it’s likely they’ll never see any repercussions. They’ll just buy another FCC lobbyist or 10 from the profits they make off this venture.

  7. Short_Circuit_City says:

    This could actually end up being one of the worst mergers ever. NBC has to give up the rights/mgmt of Hulu at the same time that reports are saying that more people end up getting their news from the Internet than TV or papers. Additionally, cable companies continue to see people drop their service plans or downgrade to cheaper options. On top of that, streaming, DVR devices, and illegal downloading continue to gain popularity. So in 5 years NBC-Comcast could be a shell corp being raided by the public from every angle except actually watching TV at the time it airs. It’s not going to be NBC-Comcast that forces a change, rather it’ll be the advertisers and how they deem the way their money should be spent. The age of product placement is going to come roaring back (and I mean out of control freight train roaring), methinks.

    • c!tizen says:

      “The age of product placement is going to come roaring back (and I mean out of control freight train roaring),”

      It looks to me like… you’re on the right track.

  8. Superdemon says:

    Comcast/NBC will just fail in a spectacular way in the long run anyway. Look what happened to AOL/Time Warner. Management had no idea how to handle the two very different companies. Now AOL is practically worthless and Time Warner is left propping it up.

  9. Blueskylaw says:

    All of the “rules” imposed upon them are nebulous and have no substance. Any first year law student will be able to work around them and all within the “spirit of the law”.

    Get ready for less choices and higher bills.

  10. TakingItSeriously is a Technopile says:

    The more they keep letting these companies form organizational entities that have no purpose but to remove additional funds from the consumer the more people they are going to drive to more . . . unorthodox measures.

    I’m glad I like tom read – that’s all I have to say.

  11. jason in boston says:

    Yup, just like the XM/Sirius conditions are…

    nope. They lie. They all bribe the government.

  12. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    Tie as many strings to the weasel as you want – but once it’s in the hen house…

  13. TonyK says:

    and pigs fly and politicians tell the truth at all times. It is just another myth the Feds are using to approve the deal. If we put restrictions on the deal they will comply and not find loop holes.

    Just look at the current bank fee/credit card fee issues coming up after the Feds put new rules in place. Sure, those fees are gone to be replaced with new and often higher fees.

  14. u1itn0w2day says:

    by approving the merger with conditions…

    Yep,the anti Fox wins. The lacky boys & girls at the FCC, subservient to prurient political and corporate interests put a politically correct hack spin things like discounted internet to make it ‘seem’ like it was in the public’s best interest.

    Shouldn’t the next set of government letters aka the FTC or Federal Trade Commission have a useless say on this merger monopoly builder.

  15. u1itn0w2day says:

    Those ‘on duty’ at the FCC during the approval of this merger include:

    Julius Genachowski- chairman

    Michael J Copps-commissioner
    Robert M McDowell-commissioner
    Mighon Clyburn-commissioner
    Meridith Attwell Baker-commissioner

    These are the people and appointees than enable ‘mergers’ like this.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Communications_Commission

    • rambo76098 says:

      Copps voted against it, and for good reason.

    • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

      Julius Genachowski- I expected nothing less than this decision from him.

      Copps? Man, he’s the only one of the bunch with any balls at all. KUDOS to Copps!

      Every one of them is an appointee. Their jobs are gone when there is an administration change, unless there are no better lackeys in the other parties “good ol boy” network.

  16. DerangedKitsune says:

    My only questions are what kind of enforcement powers could be used against Comcast if they delay? Will punishment be anything other than monetary?

    If there’s no compelling enforcement and fines that aren’t crippling, I can’t really see Comcast abiding by any regulator’s deals.

  17. AllanG54 says:

    Well I’m sure this is not going to cost Comcast a bunch of dough in the long run because if it was then they’d be buying into a losing proposition and I’m sure they’re not spending billions to do that.

  18. Tallanvor says:

    “Will these rules do anything to protect consumers?”

    No.

  19. MedicallyNeedy says:

    Just look at the XM Sirius merger. Does it cost less then the $12 a month like they promised! NO!!

  20. mike says:

    How much does a politician go for these days?

    In all seriousness, how does this work? Does a conversation literally go, “Hey, re-election is coming up. I’ll give you $200 mil if you approve this bill/merger/etc.”

    Just how easy is it to bribe…I mean lobby…a politician?

  21. Rocket says:

    Well, we’re boned.

  22. FrugalFreak says:

    NO, they will just build loopholes and detours to fit thier agenda.

  23. gman863 says:

    My predictions:

    * Programs will no longer start at a given time – they will simply be labeled “between 8 and noon” or “between 1 and 5″. In some cases they will not show up at all.

    * Periodic outages of live programs will happen. If you call NBC you’ll hear a recording stating “we are currently aware of the problem and are trying to fix it.”

    * Ben Stein and Shaquille O’Neal will be named the new co-hosts of The Today Show.