07.29.2010 03:00 PM
Record Reveals Local Support for Comcast-NBCU Merger
WASHINGTON: There is no shortage of opinions on the
proposed takeover of NBC Universal by Comcast. The Federal Communications
Commission has compiled more than 10,000 individual filings on the pending
merger of the two media powerhouses. Among them, several municipalities and
small organizations threw their support behind the deal, which is stirring
strong-arming fears among competitors and detractors.
Dennis Hisey, commissioner of El Paso County, Colo.,
support Comcast. His letter highlights the leverage Comcast has across its
service areas, where it employs around 100,000 people, pays out millions in
franchise fees and provides community-access channels.
“As one of our county’s major employers, it supports our families and our
economy with job stability and benefits. It also ensures our community’s
competitiveness... by providing technologies and services that are mandatory
for success. And the local and state tax revenues ensured by Comcast are more
important to us than ever.”
Thomas Durkin, village administrator for Crete, Ill., delivered a similar
“In the past decade, Comcast has made significant infrastructure investments
throughout the state, committing billions of dollars to facilitate the latest
technologies. Those investments have brought high speed broadband service
throughout Illinois, helping small businesses succeed in an increasingly
competitive marketplace,” he wrote. “In short, Comcast has delivered on its
promise of system upgrades, better cable service and ever-improving broadband
Hill, N.J.; Chatham, Ill.;
the South Carolina Secretary of
State; the director of Washington, D.C.’s Cherry Blossom
Festival; a scoutmaster
in South Bend, Ind.; the director of the Augusta, Ga. Symphony
all filled comments supporting Comcast’s majority takeover of NBCU. A variety
of non-profits, municipalities, lawmakers and businesses also put in props for
“We believe the FCC should look favorably on this proposed transaction,”
Technicolor Senior Vice President Frederic Kurkjian.
Technicolor’s position is no surprise considering its long relationship with
both NBCU and Comcast. Support from the municipalities is logical as well,
given the largesse they enjoy from cable franchise agreements. The City of
Seattle, for example, passed a
agreement in 2006 in which it receives 4.2 percent of Comcast’s gross
revenues within the franchise area. The City also received funding for its
community-access channel and a local arts programming.
Franchise negotiations and fees have not been without conflict, however. The
City of Ypsilanti, Mich., went after Comcast two years ago for between $75,000
and $130,000 in franchise fees related to university dormitory service. Comcast
sued San Jose, Calif., in 2003 over demands the municipality laid out in
franchise renewal negotiations. Comcast said San Jose was illegally requiring it
to build out a free telecom network for the City.
Municipal demands in franchise negotiations became the stuff of lobbying
histrionics in 2006 as the big telecom’s got serious about the video business.
AT&T and Verizon argued mightily for changes to the FCC’s cable franchise
rules, citing instances where local authorities asked for swimming pools and
flower pots in exchange for access. The FCC ruled for the telecoms in 2007.
The Comcast-NBCU deal, proposed last December, has drawn opposition from
Internet-neutrality supporters and smaller multichannel video providers. Both
camps are wary of the nation’s largest TV and Internet provider having control
over so much content. The merger would mark the first time a pay TV operator
would own one of the nation’s major broadcast networks. Comcast would also get
NBCU’s substantial stable of cable networks and its TV production operations.
The FCC is in Day No. 61 of its 180-day shot clock to approve the merger, and
recommend any conditions or require divestitures. The shot clock’s been
suspended twice, but continues to run even as the deadline to file reply
comments on the docket (MB No. 10-56) was extended today by two weeks. The
extension was requested by the American Cable Association, a consortium of
smaller cable operators that asked for more time to comb through voluminous
reports submitted by Comcast and NBCU at the behest of the FCC. Reply comments
are now due Aug. 19.
-- Deborah D. McAdams
(Image by Tyler Yip)