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Exposing Comcast’s Hollow ‘Public Interest’ Commitments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, December 4, 2009, WASHINGTON -- Analysis by leading consumer groups finds ‘Concessions’ in NBC takeover mostly meaningless.

December 4, 2009

WASHINGTON — Consumers Union, Free Press and Consumer Federation of America today released a new analysis) of the “public interest commitments” offered by Comcast following the announcement of its merger with NBC Universal.

The consumer groups show that Comcast’s commitments don’t provide the public any greater value or benefit in services. None of the measures in the company’s nine-point plan (detailed in a memo here) would address concerns about higher cable and broadband rates for consumers or the concentration of power in one company across multiple media markets.

“These so-called concessions fail to deal with any of the consumer concerns we have raised about the Comcast-NBCU merger reducing competition in cable TV, hiking cable prices, or stifling innovation in new media markets,” said Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press. “In fact, none of these pledges would force Comcast to take any action beyond what it is already doing, is likely to do anyway, or is bound to do by current law. American consumers deserve more than empty promises and window dressing.”

Examples of the largely meaningless commitments include a promise to continue to provide free over-the-air television, a pledge that the company won’t try to secretly bias NBC news coverage, and a vow it will continue to follow the Federal Communication Commission’s program access and retransmission consent rules — which the company is already bound to follow by law.

“With significant market power in three distribution platforms — cable, broadcast and Internet — Comcast can withhold programming from competitors, raise prices with impunity, and squash competition from emerging online video outlets by starving them of content,” said Joel Kelsey, a federal and international affairs policy analyst for Consumers Union. “Nothing Comcast has promised to do would alleviate any of the competitive and antitrust issues that federal regulators should investigate while reviewing this merger.”