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.