Feds probe whether Comcast restricted online video

Federal regulators overseeing Comcast’s proposed merger with Time Warner Cable want to know if the cable giants put limits on companies’ streaming video options.

In letters last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asked eight major programmers including Walt Disney Co., Viacom and CBS whether or not the companies placed any “restrictions or limitations” on their ability to distribute TV shows over the Internet.

{mosads}According to Bloomberg, the Justice Department — which is also charged with reviewing the $45 billion merger proposal — is doing its own investigation into whether the merger would hurt competition for online video. 

While the FCC has been tight-lipped about the merger process, the focus on online video shows concern about control over the next generation of online television.

The ongoing focus also shows that regulators aren’t letting the deal off easy after issuing new net neutrality rules last week. Analysts have wondered whether the regulations — which institute the toughest ever rules for Internet service providers by treating them as a public utility — might spell peril for the Comcast merger. 

“This shows the FCC is continuing its work on reviewing the deal,” Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said in a statement. 

The new inquiry follows conditions handed down in Comcast’s 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal that prevented Comcast from restricting how programmers distribute video online.

In addition to Viacom, Walt Disney and CBS, the FCC’s letters were sent to Twenty-First Century Fox, Time Warner, Univision, Discovery and Scripps Networks Interactive. The companies were told to respond to the inquiries by March 13.

Updated at 1:01 p.m.

Tags Comcast Federal Communications Commission Time Warner Cable

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