FCC seeking public comment on Comcast-NBC merger

The Federal Communications Commission is now soliciting public comment on the proposed mega-merger of Comcast and NBC Universal -- the first formal step in the agency's thorough review of the cable giants' proposed deal.

FCC officials filed their notice for public input on Thursday, a week after Chairman Julius Genachowski testified about the merger before the Senate Commerce Committee. Ultimately, the FCC's commissioners and the Department of Justice must both approve the merger before Comcast and NBC can proceed.

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Comments in this stage of the review are due to the agency by May 3, with responses to those petitions to deny and replies to opposing opinions due on June 2 and June 17, respectively, the FCC announced Thursday.

FCC commissioners have so far remained mostly mum on the proposed NBC-Comcast merger, choosing instead to emphasize generally that they will only approve the deal if it protects consumers and promotes competition. 

“Our focus will be on making sure that those values, those goals are achieved,” Genachowski told the Senate Commerce Committee last week.

By contrast, countless interest groups and a growing chorus of lawmakers have railed on the deal since Comcast and NBC announced the joint venture in December 2009.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) last week expressed concern that the merger would give Comcast "leverage to charge higher prices for broadband and cable content to other cable, satellite, telephone, and Internet companies providing competing services." That would likely translate to higher monthly rates for consumers, he said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said last week he feared the merger would harm independent programmers. A contingent of other lawmakers vocalized concerns last month that the deal could also harm Spanish-language programming, considering NBC owns Telemundo.

However, Comcast and NBC executives have long dismissed those criticisms, stressing their proposed merger would instead benefit consumers.

"I don't think anything specific to this merger would incentivize us to raise prices." Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts told the Senate Commerce Committee last Thursday.