Watchdogs want an FCC Comcast/NBCU road show


A consortium of public interest watchdogs with a high degree of interest in communications issues are asking FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to make good on promise to run an open and transparent FCC with ample opportunity for the public to participate in matters coming before the Commission. To that end, they would like public hearings on the proposed merger of Comcast and NBCU.

The group includes Free Press, the Media Access Project, Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America.

In a letter, they stated, “This Commission has repeatedly expressed its commitment to greater transparency and public outreach. Indeed, in a number of other important proceedings, the FCC has scheduled and held multiple field hearings. We expect this same commitment to apply to the Commission’s review of specific transactions, particularly those with as far-reaching implications for consumers and the public as presented in the Comcast-NBCU merger.”

They also cited precedents for taking the public hearing route, including proposed mergers between AOL/Time Warner, AT&T/Media One, MCI WorldCom/Sprint, SBC/Ameritech, Bell Atlantic/GTE and AT&T/Tele-Communications Inc.

“The impact of a Comcast-NBC union will be felt by consumers at the local level,” said Corie Wright, policy counsel for Free Press. “Consequently, the Commission should give consumers the opportunity to participate in the proceeding and speak about how they and their communities would be affected.”

RBR-TVBR observation: We can predict what would happen at a public hearing. The fans of Comcast and NBCU, in their contentment, will not take the trouble to show up. That will leave the field to the critics of Comcast and NBCU.

These are the same people who likely are most comfortable with the current mechanisms in place for accepting public comment on the proposed merger.

Will such a hearing have any effect on the FCC’s ultimate decision in this matter? Who knows? We remember hearing from former Chairman Kevin Martin, to our surprise, that after attending a number of hearings in various locations within the US on media ownership, it was clear that the public was not comfortable with a great deal of further media consolidation, and then introduced his very limited top-20-market cross-ownership relaxation plan as a modest move more or less in keeping with that expressed public sentiment.

So have the hearings if you want – we still know pretty much how they’ll go.