By Gautham Nagesh - 08/04/11 06:57 PM EDT
Sen. Al Franken wrote to the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department on Thursday urging them to enforce a condition attached to the NBC Universal-Comcast merger that requires all news channels to be grouped in the same neighborhood.
Franken called Comcast's attempt to challenge the condition rather than negotiate to reach a solution a troubling indication the cable giant plans to fight over the language of the merger conditions rather than attempt to implement them in good faith.
"We have seen a trend over the last two decades of FCC and DOJ acquiescence to large media/telecommunications mergers. Many of these mergers have been sold to the public based on the strength and number of conditions that are imposed on the transaction," Franken said.
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"But conditions mean absolutely nothing if the corporation cannot be trusted to implement them in a full and transparent manner and if there is minimal enforcement of the corporation's efforts to skirt the requirements of the deal."
At the heart of the matter is a dispute between Bloomberg and Comcast over the placement of the former's news channel. Bloomberg argues Comcast has violated the merger conditions by refusing to place the channel alongside CNBC, CNN Headline News, and MSNBC to disadvantage a competitor.
"Like Bloomberg, a $30 billion media company, Sen. Franken misinterprets the 'neighborhooding' condition in the FCC's Comcast NBCUniversal transaction Order. Comcast does not 'neighborhood' news channels in the way Bloomberg seeks to be repositioned," Comcast said in May in response to Bloomberg's complaint.
"If Comcast is forced to do what Bloomberg wants the FCC to mandate beyond the requirements of the FCC Order, millions of customers will be subject to disruption and confusion required by massive channel realignments across the country, all to benefit an already thriving, $30 billion media company."
Franken said he fears that other stakeholders such as small online video providers and independent channels may not have the resources of a Bloomberg to file a complaint and see it to fruition. He urged the FCC to examine the dispute and act if Comcast has violated the neighborhooding condition.
Franken also said he hopes that if a violation is found, the FCC considers extending the length the conditions apply to match the date Comcast first came into compliance with them.
"This will send a storng message that any delays that occur as a result of litigation over language in the order must be legitimate, and Comcast cannot gain time through these sorts of delays," Franken said.