New York Post

FEDS SMELL A FOUL

DOJ eyes tight rein on Comcast’s NBCU deal

- By JOSH KOSMAN

While President Trump’s Department of Justice sues to block AT&T’s acquisitio­n of Time Warner, it’s also eyeing a clampdown on Comcast.

Federal law enforcemen­t is weighing an extension of a 6year-old probationa­ry period over Comcast’s merger with NBCUnivers­al, concerned that the Philadelph­ia-based cable giant has been playing fast and loose with competitio­n rules, sources told The Post.

Under a 2011 “consent decree” it signed to get its NBCU merger cleared by the Justice Department, Comcast promised it wouldn’t withhold NBC programmin­g from rival cable companies or over-the-top competitor­s — a truce designed to encourage competitio­n in the cable-TV industry.

The US isn’t currently probing the matter, sources emphasized. But earlier this month, in a filing with the Federal Communicat­ions Commission, fresh accusation­s of bad behavior surfaced when smaller cable rival RCN accused Comcast of overchargi­ng it for NBC broadcasts.

The FCC isn’t expected to take action, but insiders say RCN is laying the groundwork for a federal complaint against Comcast before its consent de- cree expires next fall.

“I don’t think Comcast has heard the end of it” from the Justice Department, Daphna Ziman, president of TV network Cinemoi, said.

Ziman, a longtime advocate for independen­t programmer­s, testified against the AT&T-Time Warner merger at a US Senate antitrust subcommitt­ee hearing. She says US officials have recently voiced lingering concerns about Comcast in private conversati­ons.

“The DOJ feels like [the consent decree] was a big mistake” and now believes it should have sued to block Comcast’s NBCUnivers­al acquisitio­n altogether, she said.

Some antitrust experts argue that if the feds stop AT&T — which owns pay-TV giant DirecTV — from owning valuable content such as that of Time Warner’s HBO, it should at least keep a tight rein on Comcast so it can’t wrongfully exploit its ownership of NBC.

“There is no credible basis to pursue an extension or modificati­on of the consent decree or conditions,” a Comcast spokeswoma­n said Tuesday. “For nearly seven years, Comcast has met or exceeded all of the commitment­s and obligation­s under the NBCUnivers­al transactio­n.”

Rival RCN begs to differ. In its FCC filing this month, RCN argued Comcast’s probationa­ry period should be extended after it expires next month. The Justice Department consent decree expires Sept. 1.

An “unleashed ComcastNBC­U is certain to wreak havoc in the market, underminin­g rival distributo­rs and harming consumers throughout the country,” RCN said.

Elsewhere, the FCC in 2012 investigat­ed Comcast for not offering customers a reasonably priced broadband option if they didn’t want cable. It ended up extending its protective order governing the Comcast-NBCU merger by a year.

In 2013, the FCC sided with Bloomberg TV when it sued Comcast for exiling its channel to the far end of the menu. In Washington, DC, for example, CNBC was on channel 39 next to Fox and CNN, while Bloomberg was on Channel 103, next to C-Span.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

 ??  ?? Philadelph­iabased Comcast t CEO Brian Roberts, whose e company owns s the Flyers and their arena, could find himself in the penalty box if US antitrust boss Jeff Sessions extends a probationa­ry “consent decree” over the cable giant’s ’s NBCUnivers­al...
Philadelph­iabased Comcast t CEO Brian Roberts, whose e company owns s the Flyers and their arena, could find himself in the penalty box if US antitrust boss Jeff Sessions extends a probationa­ry “consent decree” over the cable giant’s ’s NBCUnivers­al...

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