Last night the the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department approved the proposed merger with NBC Universal, ending the long review process which started over a year ago.
The FCC voted 4 to 1 in favor of the deal, but has attached several conditions and stipulations to mitigate risks “to the development of innovative online video distribution services.” The Justice Department announced its approval shortly afterward.
FCC Chair Julius Genachowski said in his statement that the conditions “include carefully considered steps to ensure that competition drives innovation in the emerging online video marketplace. One notable condition is that Comcast must give up NBCU’s position on Hulu’s board of directors, though it will retain its economic stake.
Free Press President and CEO Josh Silver made the following statement about the approval’s implications for net neutrality.
Today’s decision by the FCC represents a failure of the agency to live up to its own public interest mandate, as well as Barack Obama’s promise to promote media diversity and prevent excessive media concentration. This deal will give Comcast unprecedented control over both media content and the physical network that delivers it. The FCC has opened Pandora’s Box, and we can soon expect a whole new swarm of mega-mergers that will have dire consequences for media and the Internet.
Such power concentrated in the hands of a single company is deeply troubling. Access to information from a variety of independent sources is essential to an informed citizenry and a functioning democracy. While the FCC has adopted conditions, they are insufficient short-term or voluntary fixes that will fail to prevent permanent harm to competition, consumer choice and the future of the Internet. This deal will drive up cable and Internet costs for subscribers, while further eliminating diverse, independent media content that is already woefully lacking in the commercial media.
The FCC’s senior Democratic commissioner, Michael J. Copps, who cast the only dissenting vote, said in his statement yesterday, “The Comcast-NBCU joint venture opens the door to the cable-ization of the open Internet. The potential for walled gardens, toll booths, content prioritization, access fees to reach end users, and a stake in the heart of independent content production is now very real.”
The merger is set to go into effect January 28.