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Cable Company Assembles Comcastic Team

Former Members, FCC Aides Push for Merger

When Comcast officials walked into a House hearing earlier this year to address their intention to acquire NBC Universal, their opponents took immediate note of the company’s blue-chip support team.

“There was a phalanx of lobbyists around them, well-dressed D.C. lobbyists,” said Liz Rose, a spokeswoman with Free Press, a nonprofit group that opposes the sale. “It was a Who’s Who in communication circles.”

Comcast, the Philadelphia-based cable company, has indeed pulled out all the stops as it seeks to smooth Congressional concerns and win federal approval to purchase the major television network from General Electric.

Since announcing the proposed sale last year, Comcast has added to its already large stable of outside lobbyists. Its advocates include former Rep. Ron Klink (D-Pa.) of the firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough. Klink, who showed up at the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the sale, helped craft the 1996 telecommunications law.

The company has spent $3 million in federal lobbying in the first quarter of this year, according to disclosures filed last week with Congress. General Electric, NBC’s current parent company, reported spending $7.1 million during the same period.

While Comcast’s lobbying spending is slightly down from the fourth quarter of last year, the latest figures do not reflect all of its activities. Lobbying disclosure law does not require companies or groups to report expenditures for preparation for Congressional hearings or required federal agency submissions. Comcast President Brian Roberts and NBC President Jeff Zucker have made the rounds of House and Senate panels testifying in favor of the sale and assuring lawmakers that it would not stifle competition.

Also attending the Commerce panel’s hearing was Ralph Roberts, who founded Comcast when he purchased a cable television system in Tupelo, Miss., in 1963. Roberts, 90, was accompanied by former Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.), a lobbyist whose firm works for Comcast and who once served as a telecommunications aide to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

Other ex-Members who are helping Comcast include former Pennsylvania Rep. William Gray (D), co-chairman of the GrayLoeffler Group, and former Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), chairman of the Nickles Group. Comcast has also scooped up Federal Communications Commission staffers in recent years as it beefed up its in-house team.

Comcast’s ability to work Washington has won the praise of its opponents.

“Comcast is smart and sophisticated. They are going about this in a very intelligent way,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project. “That does not mean that this transaction is one that should be approved.”

No Done Deal

Despite its deep pockets and ability to snap up some of the top talent in town, Comcast is facing some determined opposition and administrative hurdles that could halt or, at least, extend how long it takes to complete the deal.

The Federal Communications Commission recently prolonged the process when it announced that it was suspending a May 3 deadline for outside comments. The FCC said it first wanted to receive two economic reports from Comcast that would detail the claimed benefits from the deal and the impact of the transaction on online video distribution.

Once it receives the reports, which Comcast officials say they intend to deliver in the next several weeks, the FCC will restart the clock on a 45-day comment period.

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