WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission, in a 4-1 vote, approved a merger between Comcast and NBC Universal, greenlighting a joining of the nation’s largest cable company and one of its largest entertainment programming houses.
The move infuriated critics, including Sen. Al Franken (a former NBC employee), who branded the FCC’s action an effort to “appease the very companies it’s charged with regulating,” while charging they were looking out for corporate interests over the public’s interest.
The approval is contingent on several deals reached with Comcast, including that NBCU’s content be widely available, and that newsgathering operations not be pared back. Public access channels would remain, and the firm would add discounted broadband access for low-income customers.
“After a thorough review, we have adopted strong and fair merger conditions to ensure this transaction serves the public interest,” wrote FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a short statement praising the move. “The conditions include carefully considered steps to ensure that competition drives innovation in the emerging online video marketplace.”
“Our approval is also structured to spur broadband adoption among underserved communities; to increase broadband access to schools and libraries; and to increase news coverage, children’s television, and Spanish-language programming.”
The details of the deal did little to appease Franken, who has cast this merger as an issue of free speech and blasted the FCC’s decision.
“With approval of this merger, the FCC has given a single media conglomerate unprecedented control over the flow of information in America,” Franken said. “This will ultimately mean higher cable and Internet bills, fewer independent voices in the media, and less freedom of choice for all American consumers. And it will leave Minnesotans at the mercy of a shrinking number of very powerful media conglomerates.”
“We count on competition in this country to keep corporations in check, and we have designed antitrust laws to ensure that companies do not become too big or too powerful. I fear this is only the first domino in a cascade to come. By approving this merger, the FCC may have just given a green light to AT&T and Verizon to pursue similar mergers with ABC/Disney or CBS/Viacom. But, this does not mean the fight is over. A growing number of Americans stand behind me ready to fight any further media consolidation of this kind.”
In a lone dissent, Commissioner Michael J. Copps said the deal “grievously fails the public interest.”
“Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal is a transaction like no other that has come before this Commission — ever,” Copps wrote. “It reaches into virtually every corner of our media and digital landscapes and will affect every citizen in the land. It is new media as well as old; it is news and information as well as sports and entertainment; it is distribution as well as content. And it confers too much power in one company’s hands.”
Further reading: Details of the FCC’s decision, as well as commissioner statements, can be found here.