October 4, 2010
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C., 20500
Dear Mr. President:
Comcast is seeking to acquire NBC Universal, and this acquisition is now pending before the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission. As you may know, Comcast is presently the largest provider of both cable and broadband Internet access services and owns must-have local sports programming in many of the nation’s largest media markets. NBC Universal owns not only the NBC and Telemundo television networks and their 26 local broadcast stations, but also some of the most watched cable news and entertainment networks, along with the Universal movie and television studios. Without question, this combination of content and distribution would give the combined company unprecedented power nationally and in local media markets around the country, affecting TV viewers and Internet users everywhere, and, importantly, it comes before your administration at a critical time in the development between cable and Internet content.
Given Comcast’s well-documented business practices, consumers are threatened by increased cable and Internet rates, fewer entertainment choices and independent voices in news and other content, and less competitive pressure to improve Comcast’s notoriously poor customer service.
In an effort to secure quick approval for the acquisition, Comcast has unleashed a campaign unlike Washington has ever seen, spending tens of millions in lobbying, campaign donations and charitable donations. As the New York Times recently wrote, “Comcast has poured out its piggy bank in Washington to see it through, spending tens of millions of dollars on lobbyists, donations, ads and investments. That spending has recently become a talking point for opponents, who say that Comcast is effectively trying to buy government approval for the deal.”
While Comcast continues to court regulators and the Congress, it has simultaneously begun to form the corporate infrastructure for the currently unapproved combined entity, Comcast-NBCU. Indeed, even as the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission are in the midst of their respective regulatory reviews, Comcast has announced that it is replacing NBC leadership with Comcast COO Steve Burke as head of the still-unapproved media giant. According t o recent news reports, Burke has already been a “steady presence” at NBC headquarters, as if the merger was a foregone conclusion. In short, Comcast’s actions are a complete affront to the regulatory process and the job asked of your administration to protect consumers and competition.
The professionals at the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission are working hard in a difficult environment to assess the impact of the most significant media merger in history. Despite Comcast’s effort to create an aura of inevitability, both agencies must have the time they need to conduct a deliberate, thorough review of this important merger.
As you are a longtime advocate for consumers in the face of increasing media consolidation, we trust that your administration will ensure that the regulatory process is rigorous and addresses the threats posed by the merger and made more likely by Comcast’s business practices. As you recall, in September 2007, in one of several statements on the matter dating back to your time in the Senate, you said, “I strongly favor diversity of ownership of outlets and protection against the excessive concentration of power in the hands of any one corporation, interest or small group. I strongly believe that all citizens should be able to receive information from the broadest range of sources. I feel that media consolidation during the Bush administration has had the effect of eliminating a lot of the diversity of information sources available to persons who have to rely on more traditional information sources, such as radio and television broadcasts and newspapers.” We certainly agree with that sentiment and, unlike Comcast, trust that the merger review process is not yet complete.
As a diverse group of 24 public interest groups and private organizations, we urge your administration to ensure this unprecedented combination receives the scrutiny that it deserves.
The Coalition for Competition in Media
- Black Economic Council
- Common Cause
- Concerned Women for America
- Free Press
- Greenlining Institute
- The Latino Business Chamber of Greater Los Angeles
- Mabuhay Alliance
- Media Access Project
- National Association of Independent Networks
- National Consumers League
- National Coalition of African American Owned Media (NCAAOM)
- National Organization for Women
- National Telecommunications Cooperative Association
- New Media Rights
- Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies (OPASTCO)
- Parents Television Council
- Public Knowledge
- Rural Independent Competitive Alliance
- Sports Fans Coalition
- Western Telecommunications Alliance
- Writers Guild of America, East
- Writers Guild of America, West
Cc: The Honorable Christine Varney, Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, Department of Justice
The Honorable Julius Genachowski, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission
Ms. Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President