Free Press, Media Access Project want Comcast-NBC merger blocked

Free Press and Media Access Project last night called for regulators and the administration to block the proposed merger of Comcast and NBC, which the groups say would "open the door to a new era of media consolidation that reaches across content creation and distribution, giving one company enormous power over TV and Internet content."

According to reports, including this Wall Street Journal story, GE has worked out a deal to buy out Vivendi's share in NBC Universal, clearing the way for Comcast to take a majority stake in in the company.

Comcast is the nation's largest cable company and Internet service provider to homes. NBC Universal has a strong foothold in television, film, TV programming, and in online video site Hulu.com.

"The American public doesn’t want a media behemoth controlling the programming they watch and how they can access it," said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press. "If Washington allows this deal to go through, Comcast will have unprecedented control of marquee content and three major distribution platforms: Internet, broadcast and cable. We’ve never seen this kind of consolidated control."

The merger proposal will be weighed by regulators just months before the FCC begins its media ownership review next year. Media diversity, competition and consolidation will be three issues on the docket in that review. The deal also comes as the debate over net neutrality--or how much control Internet service providers should have over content delivered through their pipes--rages on in Washington.

The FCC will decide if the merger would benefit consumers, but some critics question the FCC's jurisdiction over online video content. Meanwhile, the Justice Department will have to look at competition and how the merger would affect prices.

Andrew Schwartzman, president and CEO of Media Access Project, said he is concerned about the market power a combined Comcast/NBCU would enjoy.

“I am especially concerned about the effects the merger would have on evolving technologies for delivering video over the Internet....I also expect a great deal of opposition from the private sector, since the merger has anti-competitive implications for local TV stations, independent cable programmers, advertisers, internet video entrepreneurs and many other businesses," he said.

Comcast has said that its online video strategy is non-exclusive, and it does not seek to block content from competitors.