Republican Fears Comcast Will Crack Down on Conservative Media

The cable giant’s power would only grow with the Time Warner Cable deal.

President of MSNBC Phil Griffin, host of 'The Rachel Maddow Show' Rachel Maddow and host of 'The Last Word' Lawrence O' Donnell speak during the 'MSNBC' panel during the NBC Universal portion of the 2011 Summer TCA Tour held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 2, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
April 9, 2014, 8:53 a.m.

Sen. Mike Lee is wor­ried that Com­cast, which owns NBC-Uni­ver­sal, could dis­crim­in­ate against con­ser­vat­ive me­dia out­lets.

“Con­sid­er­ing the well-known polit­ic­al lean­ings of NBC, I’ve heard con­cern that Com­cast might have the in­cent­ive and the abil­ity to dis­crim­in­ate against cer­tain polit­ic­al con­tent, in­clud­ing for ex­ample con­ser­vat­ive con­tent,” Lee, a Utah Re­pub­lic­an, said Wed­nes­day dur­ing a Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing on Com­cast’s planned pur­chase of Time Warner Cable.

“And that ca­pa­city could be sig­ni­fic­antly en­hanced as a res­ult of this trans­ac­tion,” the sen­at­or warned.

Dav­id Co­hen, a Com­cast ex­ec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent, in­sisted that even after the mer­ger, his com­pany will lack the mar­ket power to dis­crim­in­ate against any TV chan­nels — re­gard­less of their polit­ic­al lean­ings.

Com­cast has already prom­ised to sell off Time Warner Cable sys­tems in areas that cov­er 3 mil­lion sub­scribers. Co­hen prom­ised that that di­vestit­ure would give the com­bined com­pany con­trol over less than 30 per­cent of the TV mar­ket.

The Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion used to have rules that barred cable TV pro­viders from con­trolling more than 30 per­cent of the mar­ket. The courts have thrown out those rules, but Co­hen ar­gued that the fact that Com­cast will still come un­der the cap is a “com­pel­ling ar­gu­ment” that there shouldn’t be a con­cern about un­fair mar­ket power.

But Gene Kim­mel­man, the head of con­sumer ad­vocacy group Pub­lic Know­ledge, ar­gued that Com­cast’s own­er­ship of NBC gives the pro­vider an in­cent­ive to dis­crim­in­ate against com­pet­ing TV chan­nels.

James Bos­worth, CEO of the cable golf chan­nel Back­9Net­work, also ex­pressed con­cern about Com­cast’s power to drop TV chan­nels that would hurt NBC-Uni­ver­sal prop­er­ties. The com­pany owns its own golf-fo­cused net­work, the Golf Chan­nel.

In ad­di­tion to provid­ing cable TV ser­vice, Com­cast and Time Warner Cable are also the na­tion’s biggest broad­band In­ter­net pro­viders.

To re­ceive per­mis­sion to buy NBC-Uni­ver­sal in 2011, Com­cast agreed to abide by the FCC’s net-neut­ral­ity rules. Those reg­u­la­tions re­quire In­ter­net ser­vice pro­viders to provide equal ac­cess to all web­sites. Be­cause a fed­er­al court struck down those rules earli­er this year, Com­cast is the only pro­vider that is still barred from block­ing or slow­ing down any web­sites (in­clud­ing con­ser­vat­ive ones).

Des­pite that ob­lig­a­tion, which ex­pires in 2018, Kim­mel­man warned that Com­cast will be­come a gate­keep­er with un­pre­ced­en­ted con­trol over the In­ter­net. 

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