Waters ups the ante on Comcast/NBCU comment extension


Perhaps you remember when the Demi Moore character in “A Few Good Men” fails to get satisfaction from the judge after an objection. All she had left after it was turned down was a limp strenuous objection. But US Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) has a much better arsenal – she can try to impose an act of Congress.

Waters has officially introduced H.R. 5020, a bill which would instruct the FCC to add 45 days to the existing 5/3/10 deadline for public comment on the proposed merger of Comcast and NBCU. It has 50 co-sponsors, and Waters claims additional support from a diverse group of watchdogs including Consumers Union, Free Press, the Media Access Project, Communications Workers of America, Parents Television Council, Public Knowledge, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the Greenlining Institute.

“Comcast is already the nation’s biggest cable and Internet provider, and its acquisition of NBC Universal’s vast broadcast, cable and online businesses and other holdings raises concerns,” said Waters. “Everyone who watches TV or uses the Internet – in other words almost every American – will be affected by this merger, so I want to make sure that individuals and public interest groups are allowed to file comments before the FCC completes its review.”

The extension, if granted, would move the deadline back into the middle of June.

RBR-TVBR observation: It is stories like this that instruct us all to never say “now I’ve seen everything.” If we had said that before we were witness to this extraordinary overreaction, we’d have to take back such a statement.

Let’s put it this way – if five million citizens send the FCC an email objecting to the merger, it would be extraordinary (and it would probably indicate an effective click-and-send campaign from the watchdog community). That would be well and good, but the FCC and DOJ will still be forced to weigh the merger on its legal and regulatory merits, not public sentiment – and even if they take public sentiment into account, they’d have to wonder about the opinions of the millions who didn’t send in a protest. Bottom line, the merger is not something that the public gets to “vote” on.

It’s different for public interest groups, but the most prominent of them, with the most talented legal teams, have no doubt been working on their FCC comments from the moment the merger was announced, if not before during the rumor stage. Sure, they’d like an extra 45 days to make a detailed case, but at this point we’d bet it’s not critical that they have extra time.

Nonetheless, the FCC frequently grants extra comment time for controversial matters, and this certainly falls into that category. We will be surprised if there is not an extension.