Al Franken: Comcast Merger OK Opens Doors For More Big Cable Deals

The approval by federal regulators of the planned combination of Comcast Corp. and NBC Universal is a “tremendous disappointment” that could pave the way for other big telecom companies to gobble up other big broadcast networks, according to a chief critic of the merger.

The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday officially gave its blessing, with conditions, to the long-planned merger of cable giant Comcast and the NBC-Universal media conglomerate. The largest U.S. cable provider, Comcast announced in late 2009 that it wanted to acquire the NBC television network and its associated cable outlets and other media properties.

The FCC approved the deal on a 4-1 vote, with Democratic commissioner Michael Copps dissenting. In a statement, Copps says the merger “grievously fails the public interest.”

The Justice Department had already cleared the deal from an antitrust perspective.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who has opposed the deal from the start, warned Tuesday that the approval of Comcast’s acquisition of NBC-Universal only will open the doors to copycat deals from other big corporations.

As a former comedian who once worked for NBC, Franken says he has a unique perspective on the issue.

In a statement, Franken says that he worked with NBC as a producer for the Lateline program, and saw firsthand the serious problems that result when a company has too much control over content. Franken began his career as a writer and performer on the popular Saturday Night Live.

“The FCC’s action today is a tremendous disappointment,” the freshman senator says. “The Commission is supposed to protect the public interest, not corporate interests. But what we see today is an effort by the FCC to appease the very companies it’s charged with regulating. With approval of this merger, the FCC has given a single media conglomerate unprecedented control over the flow of information in America. This will ultimately mean higher cable and Internet bills, fewer independent voices in the media, and less freedom of choice for all American consumers. And it will leave Minnesotans at the mercy of a shrinking number of very powerful media conglomerates.

“We count on competition in this country to keep corporations in check, and we have designed antitrust laws to ensure that companies do not become too big or too powerful,” Franken adds. “I fear this is only the first domino in a cascade to come. By approving this merger, the FCC may have just given a green light to AT&T and Verizon to pursue similar mergers with ABC/Disney or CBS/Viacom. But, this does not mean the fight is over. A growing number of Americans stand behind me ready to fight any further media consolidation of this kind.”

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.


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