Coalition wants state AGs to investigate NBC-Universal, Comcast merger

The proposed merger of NBC-Universal and Comcast would create a media monopoly that poses a grave threat to consumers, according to a letter from a coalition of public interest groups and private organizations.

The Coalition for Competition in Media, which includes Bloomberg, Free Press, National Organization for Women, Parents Television Council, and the Writers Guild of America wrote to the National Association of Attorneys General and five state AGs Wednesday asking them to scrutinize the proposed acquisition, which they say would give Comcast unprecedented control of media distribution and content in the U.S.


"This broad horizontal and vertical integration will give Comcast unprecedented means and incentive to engage in anti-competitive behaviors that would be fundamentally harmful to consumers, competitors and workers,” states the letter. "There is simply no precedent in U.S. media history for a single company to combine so much of both distribution and content."

According to the letter the merger would give Comcast ownership of one of the four major broadcast networks in NBC, the second largest Spanish-language network Telemundo, the nation's dominant business news network in CNBC, several regional sports networks with exclusive rights to popular local sports and an ownership stake in some of the most popular cable networks in addition to being the nation's largest provider of broadband Internet services.

The letter states the most affected markets would be those where Comcast is the dominant cable and broadband provider and would own one or more local NBC station, the local Telemundo station, and a regional sports network. Those markets include Boston; Chicago; Denver; Fresno; Hartford; Houston; Miami; Philadelphia; Tucson; Washington, D.C.; and the San Francisco Bay Area.

The letter notes that Comcast has been accused of discriminating against cable programmers that compete with Comcast-owned cable channels and denying satellite competitors the right to carry a local sports channel in Philadelphia that broadcasts the Flyers, Phillies and 76ers.

"These sorts of anti-competitive practices — in local sports, business news, or anywhere Comcast will now have a financial interest in programming — will likely proliferate if the merger with NBCU goes forward as proposed. The result could be higher prices for pay-TV consumers, less choice on the dial and online, a more challenging environment for workers and a less competitive media landscape."

The letter was sent Jon Bruning, attorney general of Nebraska and president of the National Association of Attorneys General along with Attorneys General Jerry Brown of California, Andrew Cuomo of New York, John Kroger of Oregon, Bill McCollum of Florida, and Rob McKenna of Washington. The FCC has held several hearings on the proposed merger and is expected to approve the transaction in the coming months.

Update: Washington consulting firm Glover Park Group, which organized the Coalition for Competition in Media, sends along a correction noting the NAAG elected North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper to replace Bruning as president on June 17. They have since sent the letter to Cooper as well.

Comcast also sent the following response: “We’re proud of the over 1000 elected officials and diverse organizations across the country that have expressed support for this transaction. We are confident reviews will find this deal to be pro-competitive and in the public interest.”