Legislation or FCC regulation guaranteeing the concept of network neutrality still lacking, says Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA). He is urging the FCC to make sure that the proposed merger between Comcast and NBC Universal does not “exacerbate the problem.”
He noted that the transaction was “large and complicated,” with the ability to “transform an industry and lead to similar combinations in the future,” therefore warranting a particularly exhaustive investigation of conditions necessary to preserve competition in the industry.
He said that the lack of clear net neutrality rules is already a concern, and added that “the transaction under review would create new incentives for Comcast to prefer the distribution of NBC Universal content to their customers, or restrict access of NBC Universal content by consumers using an internet connection provided by a competitor to Comcast. In the absence of an industry wide solution to this problem, I urge the Commission to ensure that this transaction will not exacerbate the problem by making certain that the combined company cannot prefer its own content when delivering broadband services or tie NBC Universal content to the use of Comcast’s broadband services.”
Johnson is also worried about other interactions with competitors, including existing and future MVPD alternative to Comcast. “The unprecedented combination of distribution and content provision under one company, something that has never been done on this scale before, may alter the combined company’s incentives in future negotiations.” He said that here too it would allow the merged entity to prefer its own content on its own distribution platform and drive hard terms to make its content available to competing distribution platforms.
Johnson concluded, “When dealing with transactions such as the Comcast-NBC combination, which so often lead to a cascade of similar transactions, it is imperative that the Commission take whatever time it needs to get their analysis correct and to ensure that customers are protected.”
RBR-TVBR observation: Comcast and NBCU have promised to eschew all kinds of anti-competitive behaviors and accept conditions on approval. The issue could wind up being if conditions have a sunset or not. While pro-merger watchdogs are urging that regulators avoid legislating by condition, those on the other side may want to make sure any imposed conditions have some degree of permanence. Stay tuned.