Tricky Rick: Boucher Urges FCC To Approve Comcast-NBCU Merger Sans Neutrality Conditions

Rick Boucher

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) indicated today that Congress is gearing up to tackle net neutrality.

In a letter to FCC Chair Julius Genachowski, Boucher urged the agency to approve Comcast's merger with NBC Universal without imposing any neutrality conditions, stating that legislators were currently discussing promulgating new laws. "If those discussions are successful, Congress will soon take up legislation that will apply a uniform set of network openness principles to all broadband providers," he wrote.

Boucher added that it would be "highly inappropriate" to require Comcast to follow neutrality rules "prior to the time that rules are applicable across the industry."

The FCC recently took a preliminary step toward issuing neutrality rules by voting to consider reclassifying broadband access as a "telecommunications" service. The FCC made the move shortly after a federal appeals court ruled that the commission lacked authority to regulate broadband access because it was currently classified as an "information" service.

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Advocacy group Free Press is urging the FCC to reject Boucher's request and to require Comcast to follow neutrality rules that would prohibit the company from discriminating against particular sites or applications by either degrading or prioritizing traffic.

"If this merger is approved and these important provisions are not in place, consumers will be left at the mercy of the merged company, which would have increased incentive and ability to prioritize its own content and distribution platforms over that of competitors," Free Press policy counsel Corie Wright said in a statement. "Without adequate Net Neutrality provisions in place, the reviewing agencies should not approve the merger."

Free Press also pointed out that the FCC previously required AT&T and Bell South to agree to follow neutrality rules for two years as a condition of their 2006 merger.

Boucher did recommend the FCC impose conditions related to online video. Among others, he said that programs currently available over the air and at NBC.com for free "should not be permitted to migrate exclusively to TV Everywhere or exclusively to any other online program platform."

He also said that the company should not be able to make exclusive deals that would restrict online video to the subscription-based TV Everywhere or to other Comcast-owned Web services.

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