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Internet a Key Point of Opposition to Comcast-NBCU Deal

Franken062210.bmp Yesterday was the last day to file comments on the proposed Comcast-NBC Universal merger, and a number of individuals and companies weighed in.

Among those filing comments in opposition to the deal were Senator Al Franken (D-MN), and satellite companies DirecTV and DISH Network.

All three made access to content on the internet a key point of their arguments.

DISH alleges in its filing that NBC Universal has a “propensity to discriminate” with regards to the content it puts online. Specifically, DISH says that NBC deliberately only makes lower quality video streams of its content available to third party companies like DISH:

NBCU downgrades the quality of the video experience on DISH’s online video platforms in comparison to NBCU’s proprietary online video platforms, such as Hulu.com and NBC.com. This appears to be an effort to drive online video users away from non-NBCU online video distribution platforms and towards NBCU’s own propel1ies.

In a separate document, a DISH executive says that while NBC.com and Hulu.com allows content to be streamed at 480p, 360p and 288p, they only let DISH’s own Dishonline.com stream the content at 288p.

DirecTV focused on authentication, specifically the concern that the new company would out some of its sports or entertainment program online via an authentication platform:

…and then deny authentication to DIRECTV and other rival MVPDs or charge exorbitantly high prices for access by their subscribers. Alternatively, Comcast could place additional episodes of a popular NBC series (or commentary tracks, “behind the scenes” outtakes, and interviews related thereto) online – and again deny authentication to or discriminate against rivals.

NBC did just that with its coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics, only making live event streaming available to MVPDs that paid a premium for it.

Senator Franken echoed the concerns of DirecTV in his letter, writing:

Acquisition of the vast programming riches held by NBCU, including its Universal film library as well as its stakes in Hulu, would allow the new entity to withhold significant programming from its competitors on the Internet. Importantly, the Commission’s program access and program carriage rules do not apply in the Internet video market, giving the new entity the legal right to discriminate against its Internet competitors. Notably, Comcast Chairman/CEO Brian Roberts does not support extending the current program carriage rules to the Internet.

Franken offers a number of conditions that he believes should be applied to the deal, including:

3)Comcast/NBCU should make any online programming or channel in which it has a financial interest available to its competitors on the Internet, as if program access mles applied.

4)Comcast/NBCU should be required not to favor its own programming on the Internet, as if net neutrality regulations were in place.

5)An MVPD subscription should not be required to view NBCU/Comcast content on the Internet.

In other words, Comcast/NBCU content should be available to users online, even if they do not subscribe to the cable service.

Franken’s full letter is embedded below.

Franken Comments on Comcast-NBCU

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