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Comcast Wants to Take Over NBC: Why It Matters to You

By: Liz Rose

You may have heard that Comcast, the big cable and Internet company, wants to take over NBC Universal. Why should that matter
to you?

It matters, especially to people who live in the Fresno area, because Fresno is one of the places where Comcast is the main provider of cable and Internet services and NBC owns a local broadcast station, Telemundo affiliate KNSO. That’s too much media power in the hands of one company.

Comcast already raises its rates every year. There’s no reason to believe this deal would help consumers. If you don’t have Comcast at home, you could still end up paying more to get NBC shows via satellite or another cable provider.

In fact, rates for all pay-TV customers nationwide could skyrocket because Comcast will have the opportunity and incentive to charge its competitors more for NBC programs and force competitors to carry less desirable Comcast cable channels to get NBC programming. Those added costs will mean bigger bills for all cable subscribers.

After its takeover of NBC, Comcast would control one in every five television viewing hours. If Comcast owns NBC, it will have the incentive to favor NBC shows over other programming. This could be particularly harmful to local and independent voices and programs and make it even harder to find alternatives on the cable dial. Instead, expect to see more re-purposed, repackaged content on all Comcast-controlled channels and less new original programming.

Comcast is a huge company-the nation’s largest video programming distributor, largest residential broadband provider and third largest home telephone service provider. As measured by annual revenue, NBC is the nation’s fourth largest media and entertainment company.

And history shows us that big is not always better for responding to local community needs. In fact, it’s usually worse. Worse still, layoffs consistently accompany these types of mergers. As companies try to upsize their profits, they tend to downsize their work force.

Can this deal be stopped? The proposed transaction will be reviewed by both the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission. And Congress has already held two hearings on the merger and may schedule more.

Comcast and NBC have been buttering up lawmakers with big campaign contributions to try to sway them. The Hill newspaper reported that the two companies spent $474,000 on contributions to members of the panels that held the recent hearings, “about 70 percent of what they spent over the entire political cycle of 2008.”

But at least one lawmaker has stood up against Comcast and is leading the effort to block the merger. In the Senate, Minnesota’s Al Franken-who worked at NBC for years-challenged the Comcast and NBC executives saying, “You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t trust these promises, and that is from experience in this business.”

“It matters who runs our media companies,” Franken added. “The media are our source of entertainment, but they’re also the way we get our information about the world. So when the same company produces the programs and runs the pipes that bring us those programs, we have a reason to be nervous.”

It’s not too late to stop this merger. If you write your members of Congress and ask them to say no to the Comcast takeover, that will help. To learn more, visit www.freepress.net/comcast.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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