Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT., Tuesday called on the Justice Department to block Comcast's proposed merger with NBC Universal, saying combining the nation's biggest cable company with a major content provider will drive up cable television prices and hamper competition.
In a letter to Christine Varney, assistant attorney general for antitrust, Sanders said the merger would likely result in "substantially lessening" competition in the video programming market and the cable TV and online distribution markets.
"The proposed Comcast-NBCU merger poses substantial new risks not seen in past transactions because of both its size and the dynamic evolution of distribution models for video content," Sanders wrote. "These risks go above and beyond even the hypothetical ameliorative potential of current [Federal Communications Commission] and statutory protections. We're the merger to be approved I have little doubt that Comcast-NBCU would retain hundreds of attorneys and lobbyists to exploit the gaps and loopholes in current regulations."
Sanders wrote the FCC last month to urge it not to approve the merger, saying it does not meet the agency's threshold of being in the public interest. His letter comes just a few days after Senate Commerce Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., weighed in on the merger, warning in a recent letter to the FCC that the deal could result in higher rates, fewer programming choices, and the blocking of competing online content.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., also wrote the FCC late last month to voice her concerns with the merger. In the Nov. 30 letter, Waters, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, cited the recent fee dispute between Comcast and Level 3 and an ongoing carriage dispute between Comcast and the Tennis Channel.
Waters said if the merger is approved, it should be "conditioned upon substantive commitments that will promote media diversity, competition, and consumer protections." Other key lawmakers, including House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., also have called for conditions to be attached if the merger is approved.
Comcast has aggressively tried to counter critics, noting that it has made several concessions to independent programmers, minority groups and others.
The merger is supported by some other key lawmakers, including Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who is likely to be tapped as the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee in the next Congress. He wrote the FCC in October urging the agency to approve the merger saying, it "will promote localism, competition, and diversity, which are at the heart of the commission's public interest analysis."
And incoming House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., warned in a letter Friday against giving in to partisan influences in the approval process and said further delay would cause economic uncertainty.
"Failing to remain focused on issues directly related to this transaction would create uncertainty for future business transactions, and harm investment and innovation," Upton wrote. "I will be troubled if it appears that the commission is using this transaction to accomplish broader, partisan objectives that it does not have the policy support to impose industry-wide."