Comcast‘s proposed $30 billion purchase of NBC Universal is a bad deal for consumers, as well as for net neutrality.
If approved, the purchase will create yet another instance where a company that delivers digital content will have a profit motive to discriminate against other content providers.
The FCC should stop this deal, partially because it furthers media consolidation into too few hands, but also because it flies against the prevailing wind of net neutrality, as envisioned by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. (What is “net neutrality?” Here’s an explainer).
Taken to an extreme, why should Comcast/NBC carry any non-NBC programming on its cable systems that doesn’t have to?
That wouldn’t hurt broadcasters, whose channels cable companies are obliged to carry, but cable-only networks lack such protection and could find themselves off Comcast’s systems on a competitive whim.
Competitive forces prevent extreme behavior such as this, at least until the day AT&T buys CBS or ABC, and decides to dump MSNBC, Bravo, and CNBC from its network because they are owned by rival Comcast (once the deal completes).
Yes, I know this is extreme and I am not predicting it will happen. Still, owning NBC Universal will give Comcast every reason everything possible to prop up the failing TV network, perhaps at the expense of other broadcasters and content providers.
There are all kinds of ways for Comcast to do this, if it chooses, some obvious to consumers and others hidden.
If I were an NBC Universal competitor that needed Comcast to reach my customers, I would be very afraid of what might happen as a result of this deal. The purchase further demonstrates what a desperate time we live in and how desperate media companies have become.
In my world, companies that provided carriage–digital plumbing, if you will–would be prevented from owning the content that flowed across their networks. If already in place, this doctrine would have prevented cable companies, which already owned the physical cable plant, from investing in programming companies.
In the early days of cable, this would have maintained the cable companies’ monopoly on access to customers’ homes, but would have also prevented them from forcing channels they owned on customers who might have preferred a competitive channel instead.
Today, the line between cable companies, telephony providers, and other telecom businesses have blurred considerably.
Yet, the issue remains: Someone has to bring programming into your home or office, perhaps over an IP connection, and if that “someone” also happens to own content or a competing legacy business, like voice telephony, there is reason to be concerned.
That is how this all circles back to the net neutrality issue. I hope I have explained how allowing Comcast to purchase NBC Universal would work against the idea of a free and open Internet (that includes television). This deal must be stopped.
David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.