Yesterday, we returned to Capitol Hill to complete the series of announced hearings on our proposed joint venture with GE concerning NBC Universal. Yesterday’s hearing – the fourth relating to the transaction — was before the Senate Commerce Committee.
The opening panel featured FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Christine Varney from the Department of Justice. They are the two federal officials with primary responsibility for regulatory review of the joint venture. They focused their presentations on procedural matters as it would be inappropriate to comment on details of the transaction that is currently under review by their agencies.
Both Chairman Genachowski and AAG Varney testified that they intend to provide a thorough but expeditious review of the joint venture and would work together and coordinate their efforts. The importance of a thorough but expeditious review of the transaction was echoed by many of the Senators, including Senator John Kerry (D-MA) who closed their panel with a request of both agencies for a swift review.
On the second panel, Comcast Chairman & CEO Brian Roberts testified, joined by competition law expert Professor Christopher Yoo from the University of Pennsylvania, a representative of the Writers Guild of America West, and two witnesses who have appeared at previous hearings, one representing a competing cable company, and the other representing a consumer group.
As we have consistently heard from competition experts at previous hearings, this proposed joint venture will not adversely impact competition. According to Professor Yoo, “The proposed Comcast-NBC Universal merger is very unlikely to harm consumers. The markets are not structured in a way that the combination of these two firms will have any anticompetitive horizontal or vertical effects.”
Yoo also told the Committee that the FCC should not attempt to use the merger review process as a “proxy” for addressing broader industry issues such as program access and net neutrality.
And, in fact, it became clear during the testimony of Colleen Abdoulah, the President and CEO of WOW!, a competing cable company, that her real concerns are not with the Comcast/NBCU joint venture, but rather with the operation of the program access rules and her negotiations with all large content companies. This is why you will hear us talking about whether issues are “transaction-related” - that is, a direct result of this joint venture - or whether they are “issues of general applicability.” It’s pretty clear that WOW!’s concerns are the latter, and that means the right answer is not to place conditions on a single company like ours, but rather to figure out whether the program access rules can be improved.
As we conclude this last scheduled congressional hearing, we’re looking ahead to the next phase in the process which will be the simultaneous reviews at the FCC and DOJ. Yesterday, Chairman Genakowski said that the FCC will soon begin its “public comment” period on our application for approval of the joint venture within the next few days. During the public interest review by the FCC, we will have continuing opportunities to demonstrate the benefits of the deal to the five commissioners, FCC staff, interested parties and members of the viewing public. We will also have important discussions with the Justice Department.
We’re eager to move forward with this process, and we appreciate the many comments by both Democratic and Republican Members of Congress who urge that the review process be “thorough but expeditious.” This is very important so that Comcast and NBC Universal can move ahead with our plans and begin to deliver on the pro-consumer promises of the transaction: delivering the “anytime, anywhere” digital video future that consumers want, and continuing to create value for our customers in an increasingly competitive marketplace.