Consumer Groups Rap Comcast-NBCU Deal

Claim Wall Street analysts underestimate “the level of damage this merger will do” to competition.

Last Updated: November 16, 2009 @ 5:50 PM

Comcast and NBC Universal have yet to formally announce their deal, but consumer groups and a union are already announcing a major campaign to oppose it.

Representatives of Free Press, the Consumer Federation of America, the Communications Workers of America and the video-download website Fuze told a news conference Friday that any deal would be bad for consumers, independent programmers and journalists and give the combined company way too much power.

They said they would oppose the deal both during its review with anti-trust regulators and at the Federal Communications Commission.

Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, said Wall Street analysts are underestimating “the level of damage this merger will do” to competition.

“We have never seen so much control,” he said. He said not only would the combination end competition between Comcast and NBC Universal, it would trigger other mergers to achieve similar scale.

“We will be rallying citizens who are sick and tired of mega mergers,” he said promising a campaign similar to the successful effort the group helped launch to oppose the FCC’s easing of media ownership rules several years ago. That campaign drew more than 3 million letters and comments in opposition to the FCC.

Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation, suggested the merger raises extensive anti-trust issues.

“The pundits who are predicting this will be slam dunk have not done a complete analysis,” he said. He said that the merger eliminates a budding rivalry between cable providers and Hulu and raises concerns about how the company would treat rivals’ content and rivals’ desire to feature NBC content.

He also said that Comcast has a pattern of trying to freeze out content from rivals that anti-trust regulators would want to review.

“Serious conditions would be necessary [for the deal to go forward.] Given the magnitude, the simpler and direct way to preserve competition is to just say, ‘No,’” he said. 

George Kohl, senior director of the Communications Workers, which represents 6,000 Comcast and 2,500 NBC Universal employees, warned that Comcast “will have the power to determine what programs get aired and what we pay. Comcast is too powerful today and [the deal] will make them more powerful. The bloat it gives them will erode democracy,” he said.