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Lobbying Battle Over Comcast-NBC Deal Heads Into the New Year

The company spent almost $8.8 million in federal lobbying in the first three quarters of this year and has retained a stable of 30 outside firms, a number of which have prominent former lawmakers as partners, according to disclosure forms filed with Congress.

In the recent midterm campaigns, Comcast’s political action committee contributed almost $1.7 million to federal candidates: $914,000 to Democrats and $767,000 to Republicans.

This month, company executives have met with FCC officials to hash out potential conditions that might be placed on the deal. According to filings with the FCC, on Dec. 17 and 18, Comcast officials discussed with commission officials the distribution of online video, Hulu, independent programming, the provision of broadband Internet services and set-top boxes.

“Applicants reiterated that there is no basis in the factual, legal, or economic record for conditions in these areas,” said the filing submitted by Michael Hammer, counsel for Comcast. At the meetings, the filing said that “applicants also described the negative consequences that conditions could have on competition, consumers and the Comcast and NBC Universal.”

Comcast is also fighting communications companies that fear the merger will put them at a disadvantage. Bloomberg has argued that as a condition of the sale, Comcast should be required to place existing business channels, such as Bloomberg TV, in the vicinity of CNBC.  Bloomberg has stated that when its TV channel has not been placed in the neighborhood of CNBC, its viewership decreased by 66 percent.

“Bloomberg is convinced that after the merger, Comcast will both have the incentive and ability to harm Bloomberg,” said Kevin Martin, a former FCC chairman who is now lobbying for Bloomberg and several other opponents of the merger, including the Communications Workers of America.

Merger Reservations

The president of Allbritton Communications, Frederick J. Ryan, met with FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s staff Dec. 2 to discuss concerns that the acquisition could have “potentially grave implications” for its NewsChannel 8 television station in the Washington, D.C., market. Lobbyists Edward Fritts and Kenneth Inouye of the Fritts Group attended the meeting, according to FCC filings.

The media company Viacom, which owns MTV and BET networks and Paramount Pictures, has also weighed in with reservations. At a Dec. 16 meeting with FCC officials, Viacom executives expressed concerns that the proposed merger would give Comcast the ability “to limit the availability of programming to non-traditional distributors.”

On the other hand, Comcast won support of three African-American civil rights groups after reaching an agreement with them that would increase minority participation and opportunities in the merged company.

The agreement, which was submitted to the FCC, Comcast and NBC Universal, stated they would strive to increase African-American representation among the combined company’s employees and executives. The companies also stated that they intended to add four new networks in which African-Americans have substantial or majority ownership.

Comcast also said it would provide $20 million to a venture capital fund to help minority entrepreneurs in the development of new digital media.

‘Real Housewives’ and ‘Bad Girls’

The agreement noted that NBC has featured African-American actors and actresses “in strong positive roles including in NBCU’s popular cable shows such as Bravo’s Bad Girls and Real Housewives of Atlanta, Syfy’s Eureka, Stargate Universe, Beast Legends, and Warehouse 13, USA Network’s Psych, White Collar, and Facing Kate.”

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