Lawmakers rebuff calls to delay Comcast-NBC merger timeline

Comcast’s bid for NBC Universal received a boost this week after two House lawmakers urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to keep to its timeline for reviewing the deal.

The lawmakers want to ensure the FCC finishes evaluating the unprecedented deal between one of the nation’s largest cable companies and one of four national television broadcasters within 180 days from when the review started.

That could mean final approval for the deal sometime this fall.

The call comes amid appeals from other members of Congress for the FCC to delay its public comment period on the proposed mega-merger.

A group led by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has implored FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to hold field hearings within that timeframe, which could lengthen the process.

But Reps. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) say the FCC should “hold assiduously” to its timeline. They stressed that the agency has already granted the Comcast-NBC deal the “longest formal pleading cycle it has ever set.”

The two lawmakers reasoned in a letter to the FCC that further delay is unnecessary, given that the agency has allowed the public 45 days to file initial comments and will grant another 30 days for replies and 15 days for responses.

That window for reaction is in addition to a brief pause of the FCC’s stopwatch last month as it solicited more information from Comcast about the effects of its bid on industry competition, not to mention the 15 hours of separate congressional hearings lawmakers have organized on the deal, the congressmen said.

“Between your efforts and those of Congress,” Doyle and Upton wrote, “the Comcast/NBCU joint venture has already enjoyed unprecedented opportunities for public participation and scrutiny.

“We recommend that you hold assiduously to the FCC’s 180-day transaction clock and reject any further efforts to stop the clock,” continued the lawmakers, who sit on the House subcommittee that handles telecommunications issues. They later described Comcast’s bid as a “pro-consumer and pro-competitive transaction.”

The plea from Doyle and Upton stands in contrast to a number of lawmakers who have expressed skepticism about the Comcast-NBC deal.

In letters sent this April, more than 60 House lawmakers, led by Waters, began questioning the proposed merger’s effects on competition, local programming and diversity. They have repeatedly asked the FCC to hold public hearings on Comcast’s bid for NBC — a call that Waters’s office repeated on Wednesday after learning of Doyle and Upton’s letter.

“Given that such a racially, ideologically and geographically diverse group of members have supported the concept of expanding transparency in this merger, it would be premature to rule out any opportunity for further examination, including public hearings,” Mikael Moore, the congresswoman’s chief of staff, told The Hill. “We reject the characterization that these hearings are efforts to stop the clock.”

There is at least some support for that approach within the FCC itself: Commissioner Mignon Clyburn echoed lawmakers’ calls for public hearings at an industry summit earlier this month.

An FCC official later told The Hill that the agency is “actively exploring further procedures in our review of the merger, including possible public hearings,” but the official gave no indication of when the FCC would issue a decision.