Ex-NBCer Sen. Al Franken objects to Comcast/NBCU merger


In comments filed with the FCC on the pending merger between Comcast and NBC Universal, former Saturday Night Live star Al Franken (D-MN) strongly opposed allowing it to go forward. And if approved, he requested the imposition of nine conditions.

He wrote, “Approval of this deal as it currently stands poses a grave threat to the public interest, threatening to set off a dangerous trend of further media consolidation, create even higher prices for consumers, and risk job loss in an already fragile economy. Simply stated, the effects of this deal will undermine the Commission’s goals of competition, diversity, and localism.” He added that claims by the companies that they will bring significant public interest benefits to US consumers “could not be further from the truth.”

He claimed harm will be done to competition, localism and diversity, that existing regulatory structures are not up to the job of riding herd on the merged entity, and that the commitments already made by the merging parties do not go far enough.

If it is going to be approved, Franken wants the following conditions imposed:

1. All programming and channels owned by Comcast/NBCU must be made available to any MVPD on “reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms.”

2. The merged entity must not discriminate against other program sources in favor of its own, whether or not there are existing and applicable carriage regulations.

3. Online programming must be made available to competitors operating in that medium.

4. The merged entity may not discriminate in favor of its own programming on the internet.

5. A subscription to a property of the merged entity should not be required to view its online programming.

6. There should be an FCC shot clock for resolving carriage disputes.

7. The merged entity should have limited power to bundle its programming when selling it to competitors to
prevent abuse of market power.

8. To enable the FCC and public to assess the merged entity’s commitment to serving the public interest, it must file regular reports on the amount of local news and public affairs programming it airs on its broadcast stations. It should also disclose the amount of independently-produced programming aired over broadcast and cable platforms.

9. The merged entity may not use “able to use limited distribution agreements to keep content off Internet web sites or distributors.”

Franken concluded, “The proposed Comcast/NBCU merger fails to promote competition, diversity or localism, instead wreaking havoc on those very values. I urge the Commission to examine the numerous direct and collateral effects this merger would have on consumers and small and rural cable companies; on people’s cable bills; and on the programming they view on TV and on the Internet. Perhaps most of all, I urge the Commission to consider the precedent this merger would set. Five years from now, we could live in a world in which most Internet Service Providers own Hollywood studios. The question is whether we’d be all be better off for it. The answer, in my mind, is clear: we would not.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Franken has been leading the charge in opposition to this merger, bringing it up in any hearing where he is in attendance, along with either a party to the merger or a regulator reviewing it – so his comments come as absolutely no surprise.