WASHINGTON - After thoroughly reviewing the FCC and DOJ orders regarding the approval of the acquisition of NBC by Comcast, Black California Congresswoman Maxine Waters has released the following statement:
“Although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) last week released their respective orders approving the Comcast-NBCU acquisition, I remain deeply concerned about the implications of such a massive merger on our nation’s media landscape and the Commission’s diminishing capacity to fulfill its statutory goals. In the year since Comcast announced its plans to merge with NBC Universal, I have repeatedly called on both the Commission and DOJ to conduct a thorough and substantive review – showing due deference to precedent and applicable provisions under Federal antitrust laws and the Communications Act. Despite persistent arguments many Republicans may make against federal oversight of the private sector, I firmly believe it is imperative that we have appropriate regulations in place to ensure that corporate goals are not achieved at the expense of the public welfare and our federal interest in promoting diversity, competition, and localism. The combination of a major content provider with our nation’s leading cable service provider warranted every level of public and congressional scrutiny it endured over the past year. To that end, I must express my disappointment with the failure of either agency – particularly the FCC – to craft substantive conditions that are in conformity with established precedent and standards on media diversity and localism.
“However, given the steady erosion of antitrust enforcement and laws under previous Administrations, I commend the DOJ’s Antitrust Division for its efforts to craft a consent decree containing provisions that can work to ease some -- albeit, not all -- of the concerns raised during the course of the review. I am also pleased that the Division incorporated network neutrality conditions into its order. For its part, the FCC was obligated to conduct a more comprehensive public interest analysis under the Communications Act. Unfortunately, despite the amount of public participation and input in the Commission’s proceedings, it does not appear that the depth of analysis was reflected in the prescribed final conditions. I strongly suspect that the Commission’s slight augmentations to rules and administrative proceedings will not satisfy those who are still waiting for the agency to hear their program carriage or access complaints against Comcast. Accordingly, I do not believe the American public can have much confidence in Comcast-NBCU’s commitment to launch 10 new independent channels when current networks have had so many challenges negotiating reasonable carriage terms with the cable giant. And while discount broadband, “limited-time” special offers, and philanthropic endeavors are commendable efforts we strongly encourage the private sector to embrace, they are irrelevant to promoting diversity among broadcast viewpoints and FCC license holders. In the final analysis, the FCC’s conditions and the DOJ’s consent decree will only last 3 to 7 years, leaving even less protection for the American public once these conditions expire. Since no divestitures, separation of corporate authority, or any other stringent conditions were attached to the acquisition, the FCC’s 279-page order approving the Comcast-NBCU merger will be even more meaningless than it is today.
“Contrary to my Republican colleagues’ claims that the FCC’s order is an overreach of regulatory authority, there is nothing in the Commission’s order that Comcast-NBC did not agree to or previously offer as their “public interest commitments” early in the review proceedings. In fact, the memoranda of understanding were only slight variations of the same commitments Comcast-NBC submitted to Congress and the FCC in July 2010. Similarly, the network neutrality conditions were taken from the rule the Commission adopted last month – a narrowly tailored compromise with the telecommunications industry that excludes mobile wireless companies.
“I understand that there are many independent networks, writers, directors, actors, and programmers who cynically predicted that the government would succumb to pressure, and fail to truly serve the public interest. It was in this vein that I acted early in the Comcast-NBC merger review process – introducing legislation to encourage the FCC to extend the public comment period so they would have the appropriate amount of time to hear from the creative community, especially those who have felt excluded. I strongly believed that broad public engagement and participation would ensure accountability, even if the outcome was pre-determined. During the course of this review, I have had the opportunity to meet many professionals working within the media and telecommunications industry who all expressed a great deal of uncertainty about their future in a post-Comcast-NBCU merger marketplace. While we can only move forward from this point, I am committed to hosting discussions with the media industry, the FCC, and the public interest community so that we can develop ideas and policies that will truly promote and encourage media diversity, localism, and competition. As a Member on the House Judiciary Committee’s new Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet, I look forward to working with my colleagues in our ongoing efforts to ensure that our federal policies balance sensible regulation with the realities of a vibrant and ever-evolving industry.”