Opposition to the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal is running high, with several major consumer and digital rights groups last week asking the FCC and the Department of Justice to block the deal entirely. One of the issues that continues to linger is unfettered access to the Internet for subscribers of Comcast services.
Due to widespread skepticism about how the merger would benefit the public, the two organizations were subjected to a congressional hearing last week, held by the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications Technonology and the Internet.
Even before the hearing, the Communications Workers of America, Free Press, Media Access Project and Wealth TV all stated their opposition to the merger, arguing it would give Comcast (the would-be new controlling owner of NBCU) the opportunity and incentive to raise prices and deny programming to competitors, including the Internet.
They've all expressed serious concern that Comcast would restrict independent online access to NBC programming. NBC owns 30 percent of Hulu, and the Web television service is competitive with Comcast's cable operation.
The fate of NBC's local affiliates also raised concern among some at the hearing, with Doris Matsui, D-CA, stating she wanted assurances that her constituents, who are served by KCRA-DT, would not be adversely affected.
Outside the hearing, Andrew Schwartzman, president and CEO of the Media Access Project, said the deal should be dead on arrival.
The American Cable Association (ACA) pushed for conditions and concessions to the merger, rather than call for its outright prevention. “We continue to raise serious concerns and objections and will be working very aggressively ... to demonstrate the harm and the need for significant conditions to be placed on the merger,” said ACA president Matt Polka.
As television migrates to the Internet, it is becoming a major threat to cable operators, who are seeing their paying subscribers cut the cord in favor of watching lower-cost or free options on the Internet. Those opposed to the merger do not believe Comcast will allow NBCU's programming to threaten its economic business model.
Comcast said last week on its blog that the deal has a proconsumer side. David Cohen, a Comcast executive, said the merger will not hurt competition and pledged to preserve NBC news and not turn the network into a cable channel. He also said the cable operator will not “get in the way” of the development of video on the Internet.