FCC expected to approve Comcast-NBC deal

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 17, 2011; 8:33 PM

Federal regulators are expected to vote Tuesday to approve Comcast and NBC Universal's joint venture, putting an end to a more than year-long review of a controversial union that will combine the nation's biggest broadband Internet and cable service operator with a television-and-movie powerhouse.

According to sources familiar with the thinking of the Federal Communications Commission, the deal will be approved 4 to 1, with Democratic Commissioner Michael J. Copps dissenting. The senior member of the FCC has consistently expressed concern that the joint venture would harm the public interest as too much control of content goes into the hands of a company that also controls how consumers access the Internet and television.

The sources said the Justice Department approved the deal in its antitrust review, and is expected to announce conditions it attached to the merger soon after the FCC's vote, according to one source familiar with the federal reviews. Sources spokes on the condition of anonymity because the deal has not been officially approved.

Together, the companies have 16.7 million broadband subscribers, about 23 million cable customers and a vast library of popular shows, including "Saturday Night Live" and "The Office."

The merger has sparked a flurry of lobbying at the FCC and Justice, with cable firms, television networks and station owners, and Internet video distributors expressing concern that the combined firm could unfairly prioritize their own business lines and squash competition.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski threw his support behind the deal in late December with a number of conditions. Among them, senior FCC staff said, the joint venture would have to commit to assurances that it wouldn't stifle competition in the fast-evolving online video market.

To that end, sources said the company might also be required to share NBC content with Internet companies such as YouTube and Roku if other networks such as CBS and Walt Disney are doing so.

Justice is expected to impose conditions that prohibit "anti-retaliatory" moves by the joint venture against competitors and partners. As Justice did in the merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation, the new company couldn't retaliate against any venue owner that chooses to use another company's ticketing services or promotional services.

In the Comcast-NBC deal, analysts said that would mean the new company could not punish business partners who do business with Comcast's or NBC's competitors.

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