Comcast’s NBC Universal Takeover Approved With Continuing Court Oversight
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington ruled yesterday that the Justice Department and the combined company must report on arbitration actions initiated by online video distributors under the final judgment. The distributers feared they would lose access to NBC’s content because of the acquisition.
“Since neither the court nor the parties has a crystal ball to forecast” the effectiveness of the final judgment, the additional steps are necessary to protect the public interest, Leon wrote.
Comcast’s proposed acquisition of NBC Universal won approval Jan. 18 from U.S. regulators under an agreement with the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department. Its terms, which needed court approval, imposed conditions designed to protect the emerging online-video market.
Comcast is “pleased the court approved the consent decree,” Sena Fitzmaurice, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia- based company, said in an e-mail.
Jessica Smith, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that the department also was pleased Leon ruled the settlement “to be in the public interest.”
Leon said at a July 27 hearing he was concerned that an arbitration process to be overseen by the department wouldn’t allow appeals. Yesterday, he ordered department lawyers to report back on how many online video distributors sought permission to arbitrate under the final judgment and how many were refused.
‘Less Costly Alternative’
The process, which would use an outside, neutral arbitrator, provides a “speedier and less costly alternative,” the Justice Department said in a court filing last month. The online video distributors would still have the option of arbitration overseen by the FCC, whose decisions can be appealed, according to the filing.
Leon also ordered the Justice Department to keep track of how many companies denied arbitration under the final judgment turned to the FCC. He said he’d hold annual hearings on the reports for a least two more years. The final judgment is scheduled to expire in seven years.
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