WASHINGTON (AP) – The head of the House subcommittee that handles communications issues is calling on federal regulators to attach five conditions to protect consumers and competition before approving Comcast Corp.'s plan to buy a controlling interest in NBC Universal.
Among other things, the conditions would bar Comcast from moving NBC programming that is currently delivered over the air and made available for free at NBC.com to a TV Everywhere service available only to cable TV subscribers. They would also prohibit Comcast from withholding its online video programming from competing Internet platforms and from restricting Internet-enabled devices from accessing content distributed by Hulu, an online video service that NBC now partly owns.
In addition, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the House Commerce subcommittee on communications and technology, wants to ensure that Comcast cannot move popular sports programming distributed over the air – including major league football, baseball and basketball games – to cable if it acquires the rights to that programming.
Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable TV company, is seeking federal approval to buy a 51 percent interest in NBC Universal from General Electric Co. Comcast already owns some cable channels, including E! Entertainment and the Golf Channel. The deal would give it control of the NBC and Spanish-language Telemundo broadcast networks; cable channels such as CNBC, Bravo and Oxygen; the Universal Pictures movie studio and theme parks; and a stake in Hulu.
The combination has raised concerns among satellite companies and other rival subscription video providers that Comcast would use its control of NBC Universal to push up prices for popular programming, or even to withhold it altogether. It has also sparked fears among small, independent programmers that Comcast could drop competing channels or relegate them to premium tiers with fewer subscribers. In addition, many public interest groups worry that Comcast will begin charging for content online.
Boucher outlined his recommended conditions in letters to Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and Christine Varney, head of the Justice Department's antitrust division. Regulators are expected to approve the deal, but with conditions that have yet to be determined.
The Justice Department said its review of the deal is ongoing. The FCC declined to comment.