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The F Word: Media Monsters Threaten Net Freedom

Comcast, the nation’s biggest cable and broadband Internet company, has plans to take over NBC Universal.

The result would be a new kind of media monster that would not only produce some of America’s most popular entertainment but also control viewers’ access to it.

Under the deal, which has been in the works for months, Comcast would pay $6.5 billion in cash up front and contribute $7.25 billion in cable assets to acquire a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal from its current owner, General Electric.   Comcast would control the joint venture’s day-to-day operations but Pentagon contractor GE would retain a 49 percent stake.

The likely impact on consumer choices? Well you tell me: the Washington Post reports that all in all, the  joint venture would control more than one out of every five television-viewing hours.

The $30 billion deal certainly has consumer groups and lawmakers worried. Will there be a big regulatory battle?  Congress doesn’t have a great record. In 1996, a Democratic President OK’d the last great concentration of media power under the generous terms of the ’96 Telecommunications Act.

Nonetheless, with almost one in four cable subscribers in the U.S. a Comcast customer and NBC Universal owning not only NBC but also dozens of cable channels, including Telemundo, MSNBC, CNBC and Bravo as well as theme parks, TV stations such as Washington’s WRC (Channel 4), and Universal movie studios, the NBC Comcast deal is a biggie.

Senators John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, and Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), of the Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, have called for hearings.  Michael J. Copps, a Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission, says the merger faces a “very steep climb” with him.

High on the list of critics’ concerns are worries about the impact on online video. Would Comcast/NBC continue to make other companies’ video available free, on their internet providers? Why would they? Only if government enforces Net Neutrality. In other words, only if there’s a law.

In the meantime, it’s time to cherish ever more all that remains in the way of independent media. And yes, that’s our self interest speaking.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

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Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders, author, and host of RadioNation on Air America Radio, has built a reputation for courageous investigative journalism coupled with compassion and a sense of humor. In writing her last book, Blue Grit, she traveled the country reporting on grassroots success stories and broadcast live to over 150 radio stations from community centers in places including Helena, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Miami, Las Vegas, and Milwaukee. In her television appearances (Lou Dobbs, Larry King Live,) on radio and in her many books (including Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species) and articles (The Nation and others,) Flanders calls for a new politics of fairness, equality and citizen action. Articulating the human dimension of American communities in trouble, her programs have become destinations for those seeking the skills and the will to make a difference. Flanders is a regular contributor to the Nation Magazine and CNN. Before joining Air America, where she was part of the original lineup, and hosted “The Laura Flanders Show” for three years, Flanders was the founding host of the award-winning “Your Call” weekday mornings on public radio, KALW in the Bay Area and CounterSpin, the radio show of the mediawatch group, FAIR.