The first step has been taken in the Obama administration’s antitrust review of Comcast’s $30 billion bid to buy NBC Universal.
It has been decided that the Justice Department — rather than the Federal Trade Commission — will review the deal, department spokeswoman Gina Talamona told TheWrap on Wednesday.
The decision means the government’s formal antitrust review — which could take a year or longer — is now formally starting.
It also indicated a major shift in policy.
Under the Bush administration, Justice rarely challenged mergers, amidst suggestions that the department was too politically dominated. That duty normally went to the FTC.
The Obama administration, however, has promised a revived Justice Department’s antitrust process. The Comcast-NBC deal will be the first major test — though, ironically, Justice’s antitrust division now is headed by Christine Varney, a former FTC commissioner who has over the years repeatedly expressed concerns about media issues.
Justice also recently hired Gene Kimmelman, a former Consumers Union official who was involved in media consolidation fights. It is still not clear how involved he will be in the Comcast-NBC review.
A Comcast official declined comment, but Josh Silver, executive director of the consumer group Free Press, said in a statement that Varney’s presence and the attention that the review will get seems to guarantee a thorough review of issues in the deal
"It is a good sign that the Justice Department was given the green light for the review,” said Silver, whose group opposes the merger. “The DOJ’s antitrust division now has a chance to make a clean break from the inactivity of recent years and tackle this merger with the urgency it deserves.”