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February 19, 2010
5:33 PM

CONTACT: Free Press

Liz Rose, Communications Director, 202-265-1490 x 32

Industry and Consumer Groups Call on Comcast to Withdraw from Program Access Litigation Against FCC

Comcast's Continued Fight with FCC Calls into Question Promises the Company Made to Congress

WASHINGTON - February 19 - Today consumer and industry groups concerned with the proposed Comcast-NBC Universal merger called on Comcast Corp. to back up its new promises of good behavior before Congress by withdrawing from its court attack against the Federal Communications Commission on critical pro-competition rules for the pay-TV distribution market.

"Under pressure from merger critics, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts belatedly promised Congress that his company would abide by FCC program access rules even if the courts declared them invalid," said Corie Wright, policy counsel for Free Press. "Why would Comcast continue to spend shareholder dollars trying to overturn an FCC regulation that its CEO promises to follow regardless of the case's outcome? The fact that Comcast didn't withdraw from the litigation raises concerns about whether Comcast can be trusted to follow through on its commitment."

"Comcast seems to be promising federal regulators that it will abide by the same rules that it now, in federal court, is seeking to have thrown out," added Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America. "What does it say about Comcast's overall 'public interest commitments' when it so clearly is working to undercut public policy for program access."

In the 1992 Cable Act, Congress adopted program access requirements to ensure that competing multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) had guaranteed access to satellite-delivered cable programming owned or controlled by large incumbent cable operators like Comcast. Twice renewed by the FCC, these pro-competition rules ensure that programming distributors -- especially smaller, rural providers -- are not cut off from video programming vital to their competitive success in the marketplace.

On Dec. 3, 2009, Comcast and NBC Universal announced their $30 billion merger and agreed to an assortment of commitments that are insufficient to address the serious public interest harms that will be caused by this combining of media giants.

One of Comcast-NBCU's commitments dealt with applying FCC program access rules to retransmission consent negotiations with NBC owned-and-operated TV stations. The commitment would last, Comcast and NBCU advised the public, "for as long as the FCC's current program access rules remain in place."

Conspicuously absent from Comcast-NBCU's list of promises was any acknowledgment that Comcast is at the same time asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to toss out the most meaningful feature of the program access rules: The ban on exclusive contracts between cable operators and affiliated cable networks delivered via satellite.

"What Comcast conveniently failed to tell regulators is that it has no intention of letting the FCC rules remain in place," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president and CEO of Media Access Project. "If Comcast is successful in eliminating the ban, the FCC's current program access rules would no longer exist, and Comcast's commitment will have vanished before the merger review is even concluded."

It remains to be seen whether Comcast will also challenge the FCC's newly adopted regulations closing the so-called terrestrial loophole in the program access rules. Until recently, the program access rules covered programming delivered only by satellite. But these new rules extend the program access regime to programming transmitted terrestrially -- a change critical to ensuring that Comcast can't lock up regional sports programming. Comcast opposed the adoption of the rules during the FCC rulemaking proceeding.

"If Comcast challenges the application of these new rules in court or at the FCC, it would further undermine the company's promise of good behavior," said Jill Canfield, senior regulatory counsel for the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association. "Comcast has said that that program access rules are enough to protect competition if the merger is approved -- but that's not very reassuring so long as the company continues to chip away at these very same protections."

Read the full letter here:

The signatories to the letter are:
The American Cable Association
Communications Workers of America
Consumer Federation of America
Consumers Union
Free Press
Media Access Project
The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association
The Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies
Public Knowledge
The Rural Independent Competitive Alliance
The Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association
The Sports Fan Coalition



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