Commentary

Comcast Approved For NBC Deal, Set To Follow Open Internet Rules

Regulators from the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice today cleared Comcast's merger with NBC, but with conditions. Among the most important is that Comcast has committed to follow open Internet principles for at least seven years.

That means that even if courts strike down the FCC's new neutrality rules, the country's largest carrier will still allow broadband subscribers to access all lawful content and applications. Additionally, Comcast won't give preferential treatment online to NBC programs or Hulu.com -- partially owned by NBC. What's more, Comcast now has little incentive to challenge the FCC's rules in court because, even if the rules are tossed, the cable company nonetheless has promised to follow them.

Another key term essentially requires Comcast to enable cord-cutting. The company promised to offer standalone broadband service "at reasonable prices and sufficient bandwidth so that customers can access online video services without the need to purchase a cable television subscription from Comcast," the FCC said in a statement.

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Comcast additionally said it will offer $10 a month broadband service to 2.5 million low -income households, as well as computers for less than $150. The company additionally will build out its network to reach 400,000 more households and provide broadband access in six new rural areas.

The FCC's decision to approve the merger wasn't unanimous. Commissioner Michael Copps warned in a dissenting statement that the deal paves the way for the "cable-ization" of the Web. "The potential for walled gardens, toll booths, content prioritization, access fees to reach end users, and a stake in the heart of independent content production is now very real," he said.

Net neutrality advocacy group Free Press likewise lamented that Comcast will now have "unprecedented control over both media content and the physical network that delivers it."

The FCC's conditions are "insufficient short-term or voluntary fixes that will fail to prevent permanent harm to competition, consumer choice and the future of the Internet," the group argues.

But consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge found much to like about the deal, saying it was "heartened by the commitment to increased broadband deployment at stable rates" as well as the commitment to neutrality.

That group's main complaint was that the FCC didn't require Comcast to make its network available as a wholesaler. "As longtime supporters of wholesale access, we believe such a condition would go a long way to help consumers by increasing broadband competition," Public Knowledge said in a statement.

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