In a major blow to the proposed combination of Comcast and NBC Universal, Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller - the most powerful voice in Congress on telecom policy -- told the FCC he's worried that the $30 billion transaction could have a detrimental impact on consumers and competition. Using terms such as "worry," "fear" and "concern," the senator warned FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a Friday letter (which surfaced over the weekend) that the deal could result in higher rates, fewer programming choices, and the blocking of competing online content. The lawmaker urged the agency to carefully scrutinize the transaction, emphasizing that "a merger of this magnitude has the power to reshape the media landscape."
Rockefeller weighed in at a critical juncture, as regulators with the commission and the Justice Department seek to finalize their regulatory reviews of the pending joint venture, and as lobbying over the transaction reaches a fever pitch. The senator's views represent a huge setback for Comcast and NBCU because both companies have sought to portray the deal as a boon to consumers that would not harm competing providers and unaffiliated programmers. They also have insisted that the dozens of voluntary commitments they've made are sufficient safeguards.
Senate Commerce has direct oversight of the FCC, whose chairman already has ceded to the powerful West Virginian on some critical policy matters. Genachowski recently visited West Virginia to huddle with Rockefeller about broadband deployment issues, a key concern for the senator. The Friday letter follows Dec. 7 missives from House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman to FCC and Justice detailing several recommended conditions.