Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Tuesday called on the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission to either block Comcast's merger with NBC Universal or to impose "stringent conditions" on the deal.
In a letter to all five FCC members and Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Christine Varney, Franken cited the recent dispute between Comcast and Level 3 over a new "recurring fee" the broadband Internet backbone provider says Comcast has demanded to transmit online movies and other content to Comcast customers who request such content. The move comes after Level 3 announced a new deal earlier this month with Netflix to serve as its primary content delivery network for streaming movies over the Internet.
Franken argued that Comcast's alleged actions are "highly problematic" and could result in higher fees for Netflix customers. Comcast has countered that Level 3 has "misportrayed" the issue.
"Comcast's flagrant willingness to violate net neutrality and engage in apparently anticompetitive conduct -- in the midst of two simultaneous federal merger inquiries, no less -- trumpets the need to stop this merger, or, at a bare minimum, impose stringent conditions upon it to protect net neutrality and competition in the Internet and media marketplace," Franken said in the letter.
Franken, a former writer and performer on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" show, has voiced strong concerns about the proposed merger of the nation's biggest cable provider with NBCU, which controls a major Hollywood studio, broadcast network and several cable networks.
UPDATE: Comcast wrote the FCC Tuesday providing a lengthy rebuttal to Level 3's claims over the fee dispute.
"Despite Level 3's effort to portray its dispute with Comcast as being about an 'open Internet,' it is nothing but a good old-fashioned commercial peering dispute, the kind that Level 3 has found itself in before," Comcast Senior Vice President Joe Waz and Vice President of Legal Regulatory Affairs Lynn R. Charytan wrote. "Notwithstanding Level 3's claims, this is not about online video, it is not about 'paid prioritization,' it does not involve putting 'toll booths' on the Internet, and it is not about net neutrality. Indeed, if anything, it is Level 3 that is seeking 'non-neutral' treatment that would favor its network traffic over those of all its competitors."