Common Cause, Parent Group Join to Oppose Comcast-NBC

Common Cause and the Parents Television Council are among 21 organizations that formed a coalition to oppose Comcast Corp.’s takeover of General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal as proposed.

The Coalition for Competition in the Media includes consumer advocacy groups, telecommunications workers, independent programmers and minority-media interests, the coalition said today in an e-mailed statement.

U.S. regulators should “use their authority to protect the public interest,” the coalition said in the statement that didn’t specify what changes should be made in the deal announced in December.

The $28 billion transaction would give Philadelphia-based Comcast, the largest U.S. cable company, control of NBC’s network, owned-and-operated TV stations, cable channels and a movie studio. The Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department are reviewing the transaction, with no deadline for a decision.

The merged company would let Comcast dominate in Chicago and charge higher prices for cable subscriptions and advertising, the group said as a congressional hearing was held today in that city. Ads by the coalition in Chicago newspapers said NBC’s local TV station, its Telemundo Spanish-language station and a Comcast regional sports network “shouldn’t be controlled by one cable company.”

Illinois Options

Comcast said viewers in Illinois will have options after the proposed merger. The company will compete with AT&T Inc., DirecTV and Dish Network Corp., Senior Vice President Joe Waz said in a blog posting. Out of 190 channels in Comcast’s most popular programming package, 30 will be affiliated with the new company, Waz said.

Comcast pledged to increase training and internship opportunities for minority students and add four channels mostly owned by black investors after the merger, according to a letter submitted for today’s hearing.

The combined company should be required to offer wholesale high-speed Internet access to independent service providers, Samuel DeSimone Jr., Earthlink Inc. general counsel, told the panel, according to a statement. Comcast has refused to offer such service to Earthlink in most service areas, forestalling competition, DeSimone said in testimony for the hearing.

The new coalition is made up of “the same group of organizations” that has been opposing the joint venture, said Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

The proposed merger has attracted “wide-ranging support,” Fitzmaurice said. The FCC has received more than 860 letters of support, including from the mayors of Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Baltimore, she said.

Members of the coalition also include advocacy groups Free Press and Media Access Project, the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies and Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, according to the statement.

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