The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

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


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

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

Free Press was created to give people a voice in the crucial decisions that shape our media. We believe that positive social change, racial justice and meaningful engagement in public life require equitable access to technology, diverse and independent ownership of media platforms, and journalism that holds leaders accountable and tells people what's actually happening in their communities.

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