Franken wants antitrust probe of Comcast

Comcast's announcement of a new management team for NBC Universal may have been an illegal attempt to exert control over the company before the government has completed its antitrust review, according to Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).

In a letter Monday to Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Christine Varney, Franken asked for an investigation. 

"Comcast has every right to promote its business and this merger," wrote Franken, a former performer for NBC's "Saturday Night Live." 

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"It does not have the right to effect that merger absent explicit federal approval, or indirectly control or influence NBC Universal until that approval is granted. I urge you to investigate this conduct."

Franken suggested Comcast's announcement last Wednesday may have been a violation of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act, which bans merging companies from transferring control before the government's review is complete.

"The Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission have yet to complete their review of the proposed Comcast and NBC Universal merger," Franken said. "And yet, by publicly announcing their intended managers of each component of NBC Universal, Comcast has effectively told employees at NBC Universal who their 'real bosses' are."

Comcast announced last week that Robert Greenblatt would take over as chairman of NBC Entertainment, Bonnie Hammer would become chairman of cable operations and Lauren Zalaznick would become chairman of digital networks and integrated media. 

Comcast also said several executive would remain in their positions, including the chiefs of NBC News/MSNBC, CNBC and Universal Studios.

Franken said Comcast's announcement may not be a clear-cut case of "gun-jumping" but that he thinks it merits "a serious inquiry into the nature of Comcast's premerger control over NBC Universal and the impact that control may have on competition in the marketplace."

Comcast said it's announcement was not out of the ordinary, and that making a new managing team public is not uncommon before antitrust approval of a deal. 

“Transition and integration planning  is common, proper, and expected in a transaction of this type," the company said in a statement. "Post-closing management teams are regularly announced prior to antitrust approval."

The statement said NBC Universal had remained in total control of all decision making to date, and that Comcast has had no role in NBC Universal business operations.  

"At every step of the way, this process has been supervised by counsel to ensure faithful adherence to the rules, and that will continue,” the company said.

This post was updated at 4:44 p.m.


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