Despite my credentials as a card-carrying Progressive Democrat who worked in the Clinton White House and supported Hillary Clinton for president, I have written here on Newsmax.com about why we Progressives can agree with Conservatives and join forces to push back on Big Media. In fact, Newsmax and I, along with dozens of other stakeholders, activists, and concerned citizens, linked arms to oppose the pending acquisition of Tribune Media by Sinclair Broadcast Group to form what would be the largest broadcasting company in U.S. history.
We also agree that the Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division, led by Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, is doing the right thing by suing to block the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner. The Trump Administration, however, is missing an opportunity by quietly letting Comcast and its subsidiary, NBC, off the hook. That’s a bad idea and we need to let the Administration know it.
In 2010, the Obama Administration allowed Comcast, the largest cable operator in the U.S. and by far the largest provider of high-speed residential broadband, to buy NBC-Universal. I worked to oppose that merger, as did many others from across the political spectrum, but the Obama Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and DOJ thought that imposing some merger conditions on the company through 2018 would prevent any real harm to consumers or the media ecosystem. They were wrong.
Comcast continues to discriminate against programmers it does not own and regularly thumbs its nose at the very conditions imposed by the Obama Administration in 2010. For example, Bloomberg News was supposed to be put in the same channel “neighborhood” as CNBC under the merger conditions. Comcast simply ignored the rules and refused to comply. Three years and millions of dollars in legal fees later, Bloomberg won its case but the damage already had been done. Similarly, Comcast was supposed to offer low-cost broadband and preserve an open Internet platform for its broadband subscribers. It then turned around and joined efforts to eliminate the FCC’s Open Internet rules so that Comcast could do to websites what it always has done to independent programmers: discriminate against anything not owned by Comcast so that consumers will be forced to watch Comcast-only content.
The result is the cable-ization of the Internet and the crowding out of important voices, including from the Right, in American discourse. The conditions have not worked very well. Letting them lapse would make matters only worse.
The Trump Administration has an opportunity to right this wrong but it must act quickly. The FCC’s merger conditions already expired this year and the DOJ’s consent decree also will disappear unless the Administration acts quickly. DOJ should go back into court and say, “we need to extend and strengthen the Comcast-NBC merger conditions immediately.” Comcast either can come to the table and agree to such an action, or deal with the alternative: DOJ asking the court to break up the company entirely, spinning off NBC from Comcast and un-doing the original merger.
If you think I’m crazy for suggesting this, consider that no less a legal and political figure than Senate Judiciary Committee member and former State Attorney General Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sent a letter to Mr. Delrahim on December 13, 2017, calling for an investigation into Comcast and whether the current conditions should be extended.
Sen. Blumenthal, after citing complaints that the merger has “caused anticompetitive harm despite the conditions imposed on it,” said that not only should DOJ open an investigation but that the court should keep in place at least some of the current conditions in the meantime, especially “anti-retaliation” provisions meant to keep Comcast from exacting revenge on anyone who dares to complain publicly about its anti-competitive behavior. (That’s a real threat if you are a conservative TV channel or website not owned by Comcast and espousing views that Comcast’s corporate management dislikes.) Sen. Blumenthal then leveled a knockout punch by declaring, if DOJ finds the current conditions inadequate, it “may need to consider separating Comcast and NBCU in order to fully restore competition.”
DOJ has another good reason for getting tougher on Comcast. Right now, in its lawsuit to block the AT&T/Time Warner merger, the presiding judge could ask why DOJ is being so tough on AT&T while at the same time letting Comcast’s merger conditions disappear. DOJ should eliminate this litigation risk, strengthen its own position in court, and say that in fact the Trump Administration wants to extend and toughen the Comcast conditions, or in the alternative break up Comcast/NBC.
Conservatives should ally with Sen. Blumenthal and other Progressives by standing up to Comcast, the epitome of Big Media, and using this opportunity to improve our media landscape. The Trump Administration can and should extend and strengthen the current merger conditions imposed on Comcast or, in the alternative, seek to un-do the combination of Comcast and NBC. Anything less would be a missed opportunity.
David Goodfriend is a Washington, D.C., lawyer and former Deputy Staff Secretary to President Bill Clinton. To read more about David Goodfriend, and his reports, Go Here Now.
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