Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has granted, with some conditions and enforceable commitments, approval of the ownership of NBC/Universial and its affiliated networks from General Electric (GE) to Comcast.

Approval of the deal, pending for more than a year, had been expected, though it remains controversial in some quarters.

At the same time, the U.S. Justice Department announced a settlement with Comcast Corp. and GE clearing the way for their joint venture to proceed conditioned on the parties' agreement to license programming to online competitors to Comcast's cable TV services, subject themselves to anti-retaliation provisions and adhere to Open Internet requirements.  The department said that the proposed settlement will preserve new content distribution models that offer more products and greater innovation, and the potential to provide consumers access to their favorite programming on a variety of devices in a wide selection of packages.

'Thorough review'

The FCC said its decision was based on "a thorough review of the record," which includes extensive data and voluntary commitments from the applicants, as well as thousands of comments from interested parties and public input received at a public forum held in Chicago. 

"Based on this review, the Commission has determined that granting the application, with certain conditions and contingent upon enforceable commitments, is in the public interest," the FCC said.

As part of the merger, Comcast-NBCU will be required to take affirmative steps to foster competition in the video marketplace.  In addition, Comcast-NBCU will increase local news coverage to viewers; expand children's programming; enhance the diversity of programming available to Spanish-speaking viewers; offer broadband services to low-income Americans at reduced monthly prices; and provide high-speed broadband to schools, libraries and underserved communities, among other public benefits.

More specifically, the conditions imposed by the Commission address potential harms posed by the combination of Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator and Internet service provider, and NBCU, which owns and develops some of the most valuable television and film content. These targeted conditions and commitments, which generally will remain in effect for seven years, include:

  • Ensuring Reasonable Access to Comcast-NBCU Programming for Multichannel Distribution. 
  • Access to Comcast's Distribution Systems.
  • Broadband Adoption and Deployment. 
  • Children's Programming. 
  • Public, Educational, and Governmental ("PEG") Programming. 

Thirteen months ago Free Press and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) jointly released a report claiming  that the Comcast-NBC merger posed a "major threat to video competition that antitrust authorities cannot ignore."

According to CFA's Mark Cooper, "This merger's potential to foreclose competition and stifle innovation is significant and real."

Following Tuesday's announcement, Free Press reiterated its opposition to the merger, saying thanks to the merger, NBC-Comcast will now control one of every five television viewing hours in the U.S.