Comcast-NBC merger conditions expire, raising anti-competitive fears

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Major conditions imposed by regulators as part of Comcast's merger with NBCUniversal expired Jan 20, renewing debate over AT&T's takeover of Time Warner that the Justice Department is trying to block. When approving the merger in 2011, the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission required Comcast-NBCUniversal to abide by more than 150 conditions. As they phase out, some worry the media giant will engage in anti-competitive behavior that the conditions were designed to prevent — especially with the FCC's network neutrality rules also going away. With those constraints lifting, Comcast-NBCUniversal would, in theory, be able to:

  • Charge online TV distributors different fees than it charges traditional pay-TV providers, allowing it to recoup some pricing leverage.
  • Pull access to (or "black out") its networks from other cable and satellite providers, a common negotiating tactic. Under the conditions, Comcast had to take programming-carriage disputes to arbitration. (Axios' Sara Fischer has more here on the rise of disputes between TV networks and cable/satellite providers.)
  • Have more say over Hulu, in which it owns a stake. Comcast had been barred from influencing its strategic direction since the merger.

Comcast-NBC merger conditions expire, raising anti-competitive fears