Comcast-NBC deal cleared by FCC, Justice Department

By The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — The Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department have approved Comcast Corp.’s deal to take a majority stake in General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal, allowing the creation of a new media and entertainment behemoth that spans television, a Hollywood movie studio and the Internet.

Announced 13 months ago, the deal puts under one roof the nation’s largest cable and broadband operator with one of the country’s most storied broadcasters, whose assets include networks NBC and Telemundo as well as Universal Pictures and cable channels USA, Syfy and Bravo.

The FCC didn’t give carte blanche to Comcast, however. Its approval was contingent upon Comcast agreeing to conditions that the government hopes will rein in the media giant. Comcast also made commitments to boost NBC Universal’s news and public affairs programming.

The conditions, most of which will last seven years, include requirements that Comcast make its content available to rival cable and satellite distributors as well as online distributors.

“These conditions respond directly to the concerns voiced by participants in the proceeding — including consumer advocates, online video distributors and MVPDs (multichannel video programming distributors) — while respecting the legitimate business interests of the applicants to protect the value of their content,” the FCC said. Comcast also must sell its content to online distributors at the same price it offers it to cable and satellite companies.

The FCC also said it will require Comcast to “offer stand-alone broadband Internet access services at reasonable prices and of sufficient bandwidth so that customers can access online video services without the need to purchase a cable television subscription from Comcast.”

The Department of Justice followed quickly on the heels of the FCC, saying Tuesday it would not block the deal and that the parties had agreed to conditions for the merger to proceed.

The conditions were reached in a settlement with Comcast, the Justice Department said.

Those conditions include Comcast-NBC Universal subjecting itself to “anti-retaliation provisions” and complying with open Internet requirements.

While there is overlap between the FCC and the Justice Department, Justice’s mandate is to make sure a merger doesn’t diminish competition, and the FCC examines whether a deal serves “the public interest.”

The Justice Department said in a statement that the conditions to the deal “will preserve new content distribution models that offer more products and greater innovation, and the potential to provide consumers access to their favorite programming on a variety of devices in a wide selection of packages.”

Comcast will own 51 percent of the joint venture, while seller General Electric will retain a 49 percent stake. The venture’s value is estimated at $30 billion.

Although Comcast and NBC Universal are not head-to-head competitors and their merger did not trigger significant antitrust issues, media watchdogs, lawmakers and competitors scrutinized the pairing because the combined company creates a vertically integrated giant that represents a formidable video gateway reaching consumers over the air, through cable and on the Internet.