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The Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department have signed off on the $28 billion merger of Comcast and NBC Universal. The decision ends a review process that lasted more than a year.
The FCC voted 4-1 today in favor of the deal, with conditions intended to protect both consumers and the emerging online video industry.
NPR's Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE: For months, Comcast officials had been touting the benefits of the merger with an intense lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill and on the airwaves - in TV spots like this one.
(Soundbite of TV ad)
Unidentified Woman: Innovation, competition and better choices for customers everywhere, Comcast and NBC Universal, the future of media and entertainment.
ROSE: But regulators at the FCC needed some convincing.
Comcast is the nation's largest cable and Internet company, and NBC Universal is a major producer of TV and cable content and movies. That's a lot of power concentrated in one company - too much for FCC Commissioner Michael Copps.
Mr. MICHAEL COPPS (Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission): It's too big. It's too powerful. It's too lacking in benefits for American consumers, and it continues us down a road of consolidation we've been on for a couple of decades now. And the most threatening part about it is that this is not just traditional media, but it's new media too. It touches just about every aspect of our media environment.
ROSE: Copps and other critics worry that the merger will result in less diversity and fewer programming choices on the air and online. In the end, Copps was the only FCC commissioner to vote against the merger. But in allowing the deal to go forward, the FCC did attach a long list of conditions.
Gigi Sohn is the president of Public Knowledge, a public interest group that's generally no friend of Comcast, but Sohn says the conditions attached to the deal seem to have real teeth.
Ms. GIGI SOHN (President, Public Knowledge): One is the protection for online video providers like Netflix, like Apple TV, that they will have access to NBC programming and other programming in which Comcast has an interest.
ROSE: Sohn is also pleased that Comcast will have to make affordable broadband available to its customers without having to subscribe to a cable package, and that it won't be allowed to thwart rival Internet companies that want to use Comcast pipes to reach consumers. Sohn is also comforted that most of those rules will stay in place for seven years.
Ms. SOHN: We think that those are pretty darn good conditions.
ROSE: Public interest groups didn't get everything they wanted; neither did Comcast.
Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett says that probably means the FCC did a good job.
Mr. CRAIG MOFFETT (Analyst, Sanford Bernstein): Well, I think the FCC has actually shown at least a little bit of humility in saying: We really don't know how this is going to play out, and so let's tread at least somewhat lightly here.
ROSE: Moffett says the cable and Internet ecosystem has changed even since the deal was announced in late 2009. At the time, it wasn't clear that Comcast was getting a good deal for NBC, but Moffett says it is now.
Mr. MOFFETT: Comcast bought NBC at a time when the price was cheap. They bought it at the bottom of the market. That's the good news. Strategically, I think the question marks that were there then are only more profound now, a year later. Netflix is a bigger competitor. And the regulatory conditions, if anything, take on even more weight because we're a year further on into the evolution of online media.
ROSE: Moffett says it may be several years before we know whether the deal was in the public interest or even whether it was in the best interests of Comcast.
Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.
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