Comcast Corp.’s planned acquisition of General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal raises anticompetitive concerns, the chairman of a Senate antitrust subcommittee said.
“This proposed acquisition presents important competition and communications policy concerns, which should be carefully scrutinized” by the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission, said Senator Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat who heads the panel.
Kohl made his comments in a letter today to Christine Varney, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, and Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC.
The Justice Department’s antitrust investigation of the planned purchase is “ongoing,” said spokeswoman Gina Talamona, who declined to comment about the letter because she hadn’t seen it. FCC spokeswoman Jen Howard declined to comment.
“This partnership is pro-competitive, pro-consumer and in the public interest,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokeswoman, in a statement. The acquisition “will enhance the entertainment experience through bold innovation and expanding consumer choice.”
Cable and satellite television rivals of Philadelphia-based Comcast have expressed concern that the deal could mean they wouldn’t be able to get access to NBC’s programming or would have to pay a premium for it, Kohl wrote.
Independent programmers have said the acquisition may increase their difficulty in getting carried by the Comcast cable network, Kohl said. Comcast’s commitment to delivering video over the Internet, a competitor to the company’s cable business, is suspect, he said.
NBC has a 32 percent stake in Hulu, an online video service, and “after the acquisition, Comcast will have the incentive to exercise its influence as a part owner of Hulu to ensure it does not become a competitive threat,” Kohl said.
Before clearing the deal, he said, the Justice Department should impose requirements on Comcast, such as agreeing to make its content available to competitors and not pressuring programmers to not post their own content online.
The American Cable Association, a Pittsburgh-based trade group for small- and medium-sized cable companies, praised Kohl for urging the government to insist on conditions before the deal is approved.
The combined company “must not be able to charge itself one price and all other smaller operators a higher price” for NBC programming, Matthew Polka, the group’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.
Comcast rose 5 cents to $17.72 at 4:29 p.m. New York time on the Nasdaq Stock Market.