Comcast and NBC/Universal have made it official. The nation’s largest cable television and residential Internet service provider has announced a huge deal to take over the NBC/Universal media empire.
For consumers, this mega deal represents a marriage made in hell.
If consummated, this deal would create a media and information behemoth with unprecedented size and influence, with tentacles reaching into virtually every part of the news and information consumed by Americans, from creation to delivery.
The deal is already opposed by virtually every consumer advocacy group, including Consumers Union – and with good reason. It is hard to imagine anything positive for consumers resulting from the merger.
What it would do, however, is give Comcast/NBC Universal both the ability and strong new incentives to gouge consumers, crush competitors and stymie innovation – tossing out huge profits to its executives and shareholders in the process.
And the impact will likely go well beyond Comcast customers, hitting the pocketbooks and limiting the media choices of virtually all consumers.
“With significant market power in three distribution platforms — cable, broadcast and Internet — Comcast can withhold programming from competitors, raise prices with impunity, and squash competition from emerging online video outlets by starving them of content,” says Joel Kelsey, a federal and international affairs policy analyst for Consumers Union.
Comcast didn’t get to be the biggest, baddest dog in the cutthroat cable in Internet service business by being stupid, or by having much regard for treating customers well. It has already issued a nine-point plan it says it will agree to in exchange for government approval of the deal.
It’s fair to say the list is not exactly Comcastic in regard to protecting consumers.
Examples of the largely meaningless commitments include a promise to continue to provide free over-the-air television, a pledge that the company won’t try to secretly bias NBC news coverage, and a vow it will continue to follow the Federal Communication Commission’s program access and retransmission consent rules. Interestingly, these are all “commitments” which the company is already bound to follow by law.
Consumers Union, Free Press and Consumer Federation of America have done an analysis of the “public interest commitments” being floated by Comcast, which you can read here.
The best way for government officials to live up to their responsibilities to protect consumers is to reject this deal. Absent that, strong conditions must be imposed to make sure the media monster that would be created isn’t allowed to engage in anti-consumer and anti-competitive activities.
As for Comcast’s “public interest commitments,” they don’t even serve as a good starting point.